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"Polar Vortex" Explained, Current Impact

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Fox 17/CNN -- On Monday morning, Nashville was 40 degrees colder than Albany, New York. Memphis, Tennessee, was 20 degrees colder than Anchorage, Alaska. And Atlanta was colder than Moscow.

But the U.S. South was downright balmy compared to the Great Lakes region, where temperatures hovered in the negative 20s -- before wind chill, which dropped temps to the negative 50s, making it very dangerous to go outside.

The bitter cold that a "polar vortex" is pushing into much of the United States is not just another winter storm. It's the coldest in 20 years in many areas, and breaking some records.

ALSO READ: Tennessee State of Emergency Levels Explained/Resource Page

So what is a "polar vortex?" According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, the polar vortex is a pattern of winds around the North Pole which circle from west to east under a strong pressure field. It is best described as a polar "cyclone" which spins in the upper atmosphere and usually stays positioned above the Arctic. 

When the vortex is weakened, the cold air spills away from the Arctic with winds moving from north to south. Those Arctic winds are why most of the country is seeing record cold temperatures.  
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