This month’s below-freezing temperatures were because of a phenomenon known as a polar vortex. A polar vortex is a semi- permanent, large-scale superstorm located near the planet’s poles. The cyclone is circulation of strong, upper-level winds that normally surround the northern pole in a counterclockwise direction. These winds keep the bitter cold air locked in the Northern Hemisphere. The upper-level winds that make up the polar vortex change in intensity from time to time. When those winds decrease significantly, it can allow the vortex to become distorted, and the result is a jet stream that plunges deep into the south bringing the cold, dense Arctic air spilling down with it.
This is exactly what happened a few days into January. The cold air covered most of the mid-East and the East coast of the United States, and it stretched as far as Texas and Florida. Many of the southern states hit by the vortex broke records for the lowest temperatures to date.
On January 6, the average temperature in the U.S. was 17.7 F (-7.8 C). The last time the average dipped below 18 F was 17 years ago, on January 13, 1997.
The polar vortex not only affected North America, but Europe and Asia as well.
On our homefront of Warren Wilson, the cyclone affected those who were staying on campus over winter break, including the students of the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. On January 17, the MFA students, as well as other students on work contracts, were forced to relocate to Blue Ridge Assembly because of the loss of power across campus and the lack of running water. Village A suffered busted pipes. The loss of power also caused the Warren Wilson inside page to stop working, including Zimbra Webmail.