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It's Not Just You: It's Unseasonably Cold Right Now

Amy Noyes
Ice has built up on a dam in Morrisville, Vt. The region spent six days with temperatures below ten degrees.

Even for seasoned Vermonters, it has been cold. Temperatures at the beginning of the week were well below zero. Today is going to be cold and Saturday even colder, with dangerous wind chills expected.

But is this just January or is this cold snap notable? We asked Eye on the Sky meteorologist Mark Breen at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury to weigh in.

One of the longest arctic deep freezes on record

The Fairbanks Museum weather records go back to the 1890s. Looking at days where maximum temperature did not reach 10 degrees, there are only a couple of years with stretches longer than this one (six days.) There are only two winters where they find examples of intense cold that last this long: in 1979 and 1918.

Temperatures in Enosburg Falls and Island Pond both reached minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit in the cold stretch earlier this week. While we've reached minus 40 or 45 degrees in past winters, it's the length of the cold stretch at or below zero that's exceptional.

Straight from Siberia, via the North Pole

This is a direct shot of air out of the Arctic called cross-polar flow. That means that the air flow is literally crossing the pole from even colder eastern Siberia. Even though the arctic is ice-covered there's a little bit of heat from the water that gets into the ice, whereas Siberia is the coldest place on average in the northern hemisphere.

That's the source of this kind of cold. It crosses the pole and comes directly down. It's been feeding northwesterly air flow into the region for more than two weeks.

What this means for the rest of the winter

Longer term forecasts are based on two things: what has happened in winters like this in the past and the oceans that control our weather patterns.

Generally cold spells this intense lead to a January thaw, which then stays mild, maybe even into February, followed by a return of the cold with more notably cold weather for February and March.

In terms of the oceans, meteorologists watch what happens in the Indian Ocean, which sets up what happens the Pacific Ocean, which then sets up what happens on our continent.

What's happening there are areas of thunderstorms which will change the weather pattern here for later in January into westerly air flow instead of northerly air flow which will moderate the temperatures for a January thaw, but then cold temps will return.

So for now, follow the Eye on the Sky forecastfor the latest!

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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