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. Man charged with threatening Florida lawmaker on Facebook

    Blogs

    From The Associated Press:

    MIAMI — A Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill a state legislator in a Facebook post. 

    This booking photo released by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows Steve St. Felix, who has been charged with threatening to kill Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a Facebook post.
  2. Joe Maddon: What my time in Tampa Bay meant, and still means, to me

    The Heater

    Editor's note: The Rays next week in Chicago will meet up for the first time with former manager Joe Maddon, who is in his third year leading the Cubs after nine with the Rays. In advance of the Tuesday-Wednesday series, we asked Maddon to share his thoughts in a column on what his time in Tampa Bay meant to …

    Joe Maddon waits to greet B.J. Upton after Upton's home run in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2008 at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2008)]
  3. First WannaCry, now cyberattack Petya spreads from Russia to Britain

    Business

    Computer systems from Russia to Britain were victims of an international cyberattack Tuesday in a hack that bore similarities to a recent one that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide.

    A computer screen cyberattack warning notice reportedly holding computer files to ransom, as part of a massive international cyberattack, at an office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday.  A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe.
[Oleg Reshetnyak via AP]
  4. Pinellas sheriff's corporal had racist, sexist, pornographic content on his cell phone

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A Pinellas County sheriff's corporal resigned recently after an investigation into an alleged extramarital affair revealed a trove of racist, sexist and pornographic images on his personal cell phone.

    Shawn Pappas, 46, resigned as a training division corporal from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office after an investigation revealed a trove of offensive images and videos on his phone. This photo was taken as a screenshot from one of the videos released by the Sheriff's Office that Pappas filmed while on duty. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine reflects on the news from the Congressional Budget Office analysis that could imperil GOP leaders' hopes of pushing their health care the plan through the chamber this week, Tuesday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. [AP photo]