Depending on who you ask – or how bullish some atmospheric scientists are on following forecast models 384 hours into the future – the polar vortex is hinting it could divide itself into a few pieces and dive southward through North America later this month into 2019.
Atmospheric scientists started eyeing the potential for a significant disruption in the weather pattern over the last day or two as a couple long-range models seemed to come into agreement.
Some of the most respected names in the polar vortex business – including Judah Cohen, a scientist at Atmospheric and Environmental Research – say the projections remain "more for entertainment" for now, but could be worth keeping an eye on.
For now this is more for entertainment purposes than predicting our #weather but GFS predicting the #PolarVortex to split into three different vortices to start the new year, this could be very interesting. pic.twitter.com/X97c46MLQS
— Judah Cohen (@judah47) December 18, 2018
It's not stopping the hashtag #SSW – an acronym for "sudden stratospheric warming" – from burning up social media this morning.
"Sudden stratospheric warming" correlates to increased temperatures over the polar regions, meaning that the coldest air that's usually locked away over the North Pole is displaced in other parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
For now, early forecast models show something could be on the horizon for late December into early January. That something could be the first sustained blast of frigid, wintry weather across North America, some forecasters say.
Last nights ECMWF Ensemble had a #SSW and stratospheric polar vortex split at 10hpa by 12/29. GFS deterministic run also has a similar evolution, and ensemble agreement remains strong that a #SSW is coming. #stratparty pic.twitter.com/bdaO3jEs34
— John Homenuk (@jhomenuk) December 18, 2018
— Chris Fawkes (@_chrisfawkes) December 17, 2018
Still, "there are reasons to be cautious," noted an atmospheric scientist from the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
All GEFS members now committing to a reversal of 60N 10mb winds #SSW between Dec 25-30 which is somewhat astonishing for a 9-14 day forecast. However not all other models on board yet so still reason to be cautious. pic.twitter.com/XrBCfggxJY
— Amy H Butler (@DrAHButler) December 16, 2018
The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang's headline Monday stated "Polar Vortex could unleash winter wallop by January." Its report cited Cohen's research and his identification of "what some models are projecting at the end of December or early January."
For now, federal forecasters are treading lightly.
The National Weather Service office in Buffalo forecasts out a full week, which runs only through Christmas Day. Forecasts show a few days of warming expected across the Buffalo Niagara region. But, a storm system at the end of the week is expected to bring heavy rain and then snow showers by the weekend into early next week as temperatures return closer to normal.
The eight-to-14-day forecast from the federal Climate Prediction Center also shows no indication there will be a drastic cool-down at the end of the month.
It's much to the contrary, according to the maps federal forecasters produced on Monday, which show warmer than average conditions for most of the eastern half of the United States, including Western New York.