Polar vortex-type cold wave could freeze parts of US next week

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After a historically mild November, the start of meteorological winter is shaping up to be extremely cold and snowy for parts of the North America, including the U.S.

For weeks now, ultra cold air has been building up in Siberia, as the polar vortex has been wobbling around like a bad figure skater, displaced outside of the Arctic. Now it appears the Russian Arctic will warm up dramatically, relative to normal at least, as North America cools off — potentially big time.

The frigid air is coming in two waves. The first is already spilling across the U.S. The second, potentially more potent one, is on tap for next week.

Related: Also see photos from Winter Storm Jonas:

18 PHOTOS
#Blizzard2016 aka Winter Storm Jonas slams the east coast
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#Blizzard2016 aka Winter Storm Jonas slams the east coast

A massive winter storm system pummeled the eastern United States in late January 2016, with two low-pressure systems merging into a potent nor’easter that dropped heavy snow from Virginia to New England. By late afternoon on Jan. 23, snowfall totals were approaching records in several states, and hurricane-force winds were battering the coastlines and leading to serious flooding. The storm was expected to continue through the morning of Jan. 24.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this image of the storm system at 2:15 a.m. EST on Jan. 23. It was composed through the use of the VIIRS “day-night band,” which detects faint light signals such as city lights, moonlight, airglow, and auroras. In the image, the clouds are lit from above by the nearly full Moon and from below by the lights of the heavily populated East Coast. The city lights are blurred in places by cloud cover.

(Photo via NASA)

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 23: A woman walks in strong winds and heavy snow fall in Central Park on January 23, 2016 in New York City. A major Nor'easter is hitting much of the East Coast and parts of the South as forecasts warn of up to two feet of snow in some areas. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A man use a skiing on a snow covered street in Manhattan in New York on January 23, 2016. A deadly blizzard with bone-chilling winds and potentially record-breaking snowfall slammed the eastern US on January 23, as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter -- warning the worst is yet to come. US news reports said at least eight people had died by late Friday from causes related to the monster snowstorm, which is expected to last until early Sunday. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A pedestrian walks in the center of a snow-covered residential street in Washington, DC on January 23, 2016. A deadly blizzard with bone-chilling winds and potentially record-breaking snowfall slammed the eastern US on January 23, as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter -- warning the worst is yet to come. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

January 22, 2016

Scott Kelly ‏(@StationCDRKelly): Massive #snowstorm blanketing #EastCoast clearly visible from @Space_Station! Stay safe! #blizzard2016 #YearInSpace

TOPSHOT - A man lays in a pile of snow in Times Square on January 23, 2016 in New York. A deadly blizzard with bone-chilling winds and potentially record-breaking snowfall slammed the eastern US on January 23, as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter -- warning the worst is yet to come. US news reports said at least eight people had died by late Friday from causes related to the monster snowstorm, which is expected to last until early Sunday. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
CAPE MAY, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 23: Waves crash on the beach on January 23, 2016 in Cape May, New Jersey. A major snowstorm is upon the East Coast this weekend with some areas expected to receive over a foot of snow. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Nuns from the Fraternite Notre-Dame in Chicago, Illinois are covered in newly fallen snow as they walk along Constitution Avenue while snow begins to accumulate January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A major snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with some areas expected to receive up to 1-2 feet of snow. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Snow covers cars parked in Washington on January 23, 2016. A deadly blizzard with bone-chilling winds and potentially record-breaking snowfall slammed the eastern US on Saturday, as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter -- warning the worst is yet to come. US news reports said at least eight people had died by late Friday from causes related to the monster snowstorm, which is expected to last until early Sunday. / AFP / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A man pushing a snow plough during a snowstorm January 22, 2016 in New York. / AFP / FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks on snow covered Thomas Circle in Washington on January 23, 2016. A deadly blizzard with bone-chilling winds and potentially record-breaking snowfall slammed the eastern US on Saturday, as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter -- warning the worst is yet to come. US news reports said at least eight people had died by late Friday from causes related to the monster snowstorm, which is expected to last until early Sunday. / AFP / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: A snowplow cleans up snow on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the U.S. Capitol January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. A winter snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with prediction of up to 30 inches of snow for the DC area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - The White House is seen during a snowstorm in Washington January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - People cross 15ht Street during a snowstorm in Washington January 22, 2016. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Homeless covers from the snow in Central park on January 23, 2016 in New York. A deadly blizzard with bone-chilling winds and potentially record-breaking snowfall slammed the eastern US on Saturday, as officials urged millions in the storm's path to seek shelter -- warning the worst is yet to come. US news reports said at least eight people had died by late Friday from causes related to the monster snowstorm, which is expected to last until early Sunday. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks past a restaurant during a snowstorm January 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Thousands of flights were cancelled and supermarket shelves were left bare Friday as millions of Americans hunkered down for a winter storm expected to dump historic amounts of snow in the eastern United States. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 22: Vehicles move along Interstate 40 as an overhead sign indicates 'Winter Weather Warning In Effect' during a winter storm on January 22, 2016 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A major snowstorm is forecasted for the East Coast this weekend with some areas getting a possible one to two feet of snow. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
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The Upper Midwest, parts of the Plains states, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest are already being affected by the first cold burst of air. In some areas, temperatures are 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below average for this time of year. By far the coldest air is setting up shop across Alberta, where daily highs are likely to remain below zero Fahrenheit through the end of the week.

In other areas it's just seasonably cold.

In the northern Rockies and northern Plains, high temperatures may stay in the single digits on Wednesday and Thursday this week, as the worst of the cold settles in.

The cold air mass will moderate somewhat as it shifts eastward, affecting the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast this weekend.

Of greater interest, however, is what may lie ahead.

Some computer models are hinting at a potentially far more formidable shot of cold weather during the second week of December, with a lobe of the polar vortex rotating south out of Canada, into the Southeastern U.S.

The main polar vortex is a circulation of air enveloping a near-permanent area of low pressure that exists in the upper atmosphere, above typical cruising altitudes for commercial jetliners, over the Arctic.

When these winds weaken, as has been happening recently, pieces of the vortex can break off, and meander south into the U.S., Europe and parts of Asia.

Related: See how the midwest coped with snow last winter:

9 PHOTOS
Midwest snowstorms
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Midwest snowstorms
LAKEWOOD, CO - FEBRUARY 02: Anastasiya Calkins walks through snow covered trees at Belmar Park in Lakewood, February, 02, 2016. Snow continues to fall in the area. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - FEBRUARY 02: People try to push a car that got stuck along Colfax Avenue in Lakewood, February, 02, 2016. Snow continues to fall in the area. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - FEBRUARY 02: Eric Serrano, left, and Art Tellez puts on chains on their garbage truck, February, 02, 2016. The two garbage men were sliding all over the road when they decided to chain up for the rest of their route in Lakewood. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - FEBRUARY 02: Snow continues to fall as Rob Smith clears his driveway outside his home in Lakewood, February, 02, 2016. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - FEBRUARY 02: Snow continues to fall as morning traffic makes its way along 6th Avenue in Lakewood, February, 02, 2016. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
LAKEWOOD, CO - FEBRUARY 02: Snow continues to fall as morning traffic makes its way along 6th Avenue in Lakewood, February, 02, 2016. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - February 02: Icicles form on a porch awning near Colorado Blvd and Cornell Ave during a heavy snowstorm February 02, 2016. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - February 02: Exhausted from shoveling sidewalks, Tre Schlegel, 5, left, and his father Jon, make snow angels in their front yard near Warren Ave and Madison St. during a heavy snowstorm February 02, 2016. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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What could this mean?

If the second Arctic blast is as impressive as some model runs are showing, then temperatures could fall well below average for this time of year, possibly more than 30 degrees below average across the Midwest, East and Southeast.

Meanwhile, in the West, milder Pacific air would move in, potentially leading to coastal rain and mountain snows.

ECMWF model projection showing extreme cold rotating south, into the U.S. during the next 10-15 days.

ECMWF model projection showing extreme cold rotating south, into the U.S. during the next 10-15 days.

Image: weatherbell analytics

The GFS model is among the more aggressive ones projecting the second Arctic blast, showing high temperatures in the single digits along the East Coast by Dec. 16, and overnight lows well below zero. However, it has support from the more reliable Euro model as well, which lends this scenario more credibility (though still far from certainty).

Such severe cold so early in the season would be rare, and is typically only seen when a solid snowpack is in place to allow for more of the sun's heat to be reflected back out into space.

"Mid-December on the calendar can surely see extreme cold (and snow) but it's not quite the dead or middle of winter," said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics, in a Twitter message with Mashable.

"Warmer, Pacific modified air will directly compete over the Western United States," Maue says. "This would mean beneficial rainfall for California coast and huge snowfall totals for mountains."

ECMWF model projection showing ultra-cold air (dark blue/green) associated with a lobe of the polar vortex rotating into the U.S.

ECMWF model projection showing ultra-cold air (dark blue/green) associated with a lobe of the polar vortex rotating into the U.S.

Image: weatherbell analytics

As for the track of the coldest air, Maue said the heart of the cold may track across the Ohio River Valley and into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

"Current model tracks of the 'tropospheric polar vortex' are for the vorticity maximum at 500-mb to swing like a pendulum through Manitoba and Ontario with the coldest Arctic air on the backside reaching as far south as the Ohio River," Maue said.

To decode that a bit: The 500 millibar level he referred to equates to an altitude of about 18,000 feet. And vorticity essentially means atmospheric spin.

Euro model ensemble forecast for Dec. 15, showing unusually cold conditions across the Northeast.

Euro model ensemble forecast for Dec. 15, showing unusually cold conditions across the Northeast.

Image: tropicaltidbits.com

The details on this second cold air outbreak are unclear at this time, since it's at least a week away and some computer models are not showing the truly severe cold that others are.

However, the potential is there for a headline-grabbing bout of frigid weather that is similar in magnitude to the 2014 "polar vortex" winter event, when Chicago was nicknamed "Chiberia," and sea smoke was seen on the Hudson River in New York City.

However, before you freak out about weeks spent indoors and run to buy long underwear and a new North Face coat, wait a few days as the forecast evolves. Stay tuned for updates, and remember that the polar vortex is not some monstrous storm that invades your neighborhood, but rather describes weather patterns high in the atmosphere.

Still, just in case, maybe start pricing out vacation options in the Caribbean?

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