Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Q&A:

Define "polar vortex"

Related News/Archive

I heard a lot about the "polar vortex" when the weather got cold Monday and Tuesday. Can you tell me what that is?

The "polar vortex" is a huge, dense and extremely cold cyclone that typically sits near or over one or both of the North and South poles in the winter. Occasionally these polar vortexes push far beyond their usual boundaries, dropping heavy winds and bitterly cold temperatures into heavily populated areas.

This was one of those times, and it brought the lowest temperatures in about 20 years to the northern and central United States. Some examples: Wind-chills in parts of Montana, North Dakota and the upper Midwest reached about 60 degrees below zero. Chicago recorded a minus-42 degrees around 11 a.m. Monday.

Dr. Jeff Masters, founder of the Weather Underground, had this scientific explanation in a blog post on www.wunderground.com:

"In the winter, the 24-hour darkness over the snow and ice-covered polar regions allows a huge dome of cold air to form. This cold air increases the difference in temperature between the pole and the equator, and leads to an intensification of the strong upper-level winds of the jet stream.

"The strong jet stream winds act to isolate the polar regions from intrusions of warmer air, creating a 'polar vortex' of frigid counter-clockwise swirling air over the Arctic. The chaotic flow of the air in the polar vortex sometimes allows a large dip (a sharp trough of low pressure) to form in the jet stream over North America, allowing the Arctic air that had been steadily cooling in the northern reaches of Canada in areas with 24-hour darkness to spill southwards deep into the United States." Fortunately, things soon got back to normal.

The CDC and that urine

A recent article about the harmful ingredients in antibacterial soap states that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the chemicals in the urine of three-fourths of Americans. How was the CDC able to collect and analyze hundreds of million of urine samples from the American population?

CDC scientists tested the urine of 2,517 people ages 6 and older who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 2003-2004, according to the CDC's fact sheet on triclosan, a chemical with antibacterial properties. "Triclosan was detected in the urine of nearly 75 (percent) of the people tested," according to the CDC.

The Food and Drug Administration is requiring soap manufacturers to determine if triclosan (liquid soaps) and triclocarban (bar soaps) are safe. Studies in animals have shown that the chemicals "can disrupt the normal development of the reproductive system and metabolism," the New York Times reported.

Note: Last Sunday we misstated Texas' population. It is roughly 26 million.

Compiled from Times and wire reports. To submit a question, email answers@tampabay.com.

Q&A: 01/10/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 10, 2014 1:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bucs start strong vs. Jaguars

    Bucs

    JACKSONVILLE — On his worst pass of Thursday's preseason game against the Jaguars, Jameis Winston threw a ball from the seat of his pants toward the end zone and it appeared to be intercepted by safety Barry Church.

    Doug Martin gets the Bucs’ only touchdown of the first half on a 2-yard run, squeaking past Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith in the first quarter.
  2. Evening update: Tropical Storm Harvey forms in Atlantic, second wave follows

    Hurricanes

    UPDATE: At 8 p.m. the National Hurricane Center said a hurricane hunter plane had determined that Tropical Storm Harvey had formed with sustained winds of 40 mph.

    Three tropical waves are expected to strengthen as they move across the Atlantic Ocean. [Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center]
  3. Trump 'beautiful statues' tweets roil Tampa Bay's own Confederate debate

    National

    It started Thursday at 9:07 a.m., as it does so often these days, with a tweet:

    The Memoria in Aeterna Confederate monument stands in front of the old Hillsborough County Courthouse. Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 4-2 last month to move it to a private cemetery in Brandon before voting again this week to put a deadline on a public sector fundraising campaign to pay part of the cost. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  4. Rays waste repeated opportunities in 5-3 loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    TORONTO — The signs of frustration were readily apparent as the Rays trudged toward home Thursday after another game littered with squandered opportunities evolved into another wasted day in the wild-card race with a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter reacts as Justin Smoak circles the bases after hitting a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth.
  5. Spanish PM voices solidarity with Barcelona

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his country is mourning in solidarity with the city of Barcelona and other cities in Europe that have been hit by deadly extremist attacks.

    An injured person is treated in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 after a white van jumped the sidewalk in the historic Las Ramblas district, crashing into a summer crowd of residents and tourists and injuring several people, police said. [Associated Press]