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5 Facts About A Polar Vortex and How to Prepare for One

2024-01-19 23:09


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  • A Polar Vortex not only means dangerous cold temperatures and deadly wind chill, it can also freeze water pipes and cause water damage to property

    In January 2024, a polar vortex (also known as a “bomb cyclone” or “freeze event”) covered a big portion of the continental United States, bringing frigid temperatures, dangerously low wind chill, and snow across the Northeast, Midwest, and South. But what exactly is a polar vortex, and how does it form? More importantly, can you prepare for it? 

    What is a Polar Vortex? 

    The National Weather Service defines a polar vortex as “a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles.” (The counterclockwise swirl of air is why it is called a “vortex.”)  

    In other words, a polar vortex means Arctic air comes southward, potentially reaching areas that might not usually get very cold, like the southern United States. Notably, polar vortexes can also occur in Europe and Asia. 

    How Cold Does a Polar Vortex Get? 

    Since polar vortexes can be so large, how cold they get largely depends on what part of the country you live in. Pay attention to your local weather and make sure you take precautions when freezing conditions are on the way, because there are steps you can take to prepare for the cold. 

    What Happens During a Polar Vortex? 

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s SciJinks website states that a standard polar vortex is a low pressure system of rotating cold air, parked at the north and south poles. During a polar vortex, the air pressure weakens, making the jet stream loosen. The cold air goes southward, bringing cold weather to different regions. 

    How Long Does a Polar Vortex Last? 

    While some polar vortexes can last for weeks, there’s no exact answer, as it depends on weather conditions. For preparation tips, check out the list below, and remember to keep an eye on your local weather and use resources like The Weather Channel and the National Weather Service for the latest updates.  

    How Do You Prepare for a Polar Vortex? 

    Some important cold weather tips from the National Weather Service include: 

    • Fill up your gas tank. 

    • Build a winter emergency kit for your car, including food, water, flashlights, jumper cables, a radio, a shovel, an ice scraper, blankets, and more. 

    • Dress appropriately for frigid conditions if you go outside. For chilly weather, wear 1-2 layers, long pants, and warm shoes. For cold weather, wear 2-3 layers, a warm hat, gloves, 1-2 layers of pants, and waterproof boots. For extremely cold weather, wear 2-3 layers (including an insulating layer), a warm hat, a face mask, gloves, 1-2 layers of pants, and waterproof boots. 

    • Regularly check the weather forecast. 

    • If possible, adjust your schedule so you only go outside if necessary. Avoid going outside in the early morning and late at night (when it is usually coldest). 

    • Check on pets and livestock, making sure they have adequate shelter, food, and water. 

    • If temperatures are supposed to go below freezing, keep your faucets dripping, and open cabinet doors so heat can reach pipes in areas like bathrooms and kitchens. 

    SERVPRO’s Storm Damage Cleanup Services 

    Storm damage repair and disaster cleanup services are a major part of SERVPRO’s portfolio. In the past, SERVPRO® assisted with cleanup efforts following the 2021 Cold Outbreak, including the Texas Freeze Event of 2021. Franchises also participated in cleanup and mitigation efforts after other natural disasters, including Hurricane Ian, Hurricane Ida, California wildfires, and more. 

    Excessive moisture after a wet event like a blizzard or polar vortex can cause mold damage to form. SERVPRO franchises are also educated in performing mold cleanup and remediation, so you can take comfort knowing your home or business has been remediated with quality. And if you need construction services after a severe polar vortex or other large loss event, SERVPRO’s Disaster Recovery Teams® are available to provide commercial construction services. Franchises are equipped to provide full-service residential construction services for small areas of your home, or entire rooms or floors. 

    SERVPRO is Ready for a Polar Vortex 24/7 

    SERVPRO has handled polar vortexes and cold weather events in the past. Some include the Arctic Cold of 1977 and 1985, the Cold Wave of 1989, and more recently, the Arctic Outbreak of 2014. With strategically placed storm teams across the United States, franchises are equipped and ready to handle both small and large-scale cleanup and mitigation events, with the goal of returning both residential and commercial properties to pre-loss condition after storms or other damage. 

    Established in 1967, SERVPRO has become the #1 choice in cleanup and restoration. Contact your local SERVPRO today for full-service cleanup, restoration, and construction services. After a polar vortex, whether you require help with water damage cleanup, mold damage remediation, odor removal, document restoration, HVAC and air duct cleaning, or more, SERVPRO franchises are Here to Help®, and look forward to helping to restore your peace of mind and your property. 

    To learn more about SERVPRO and the cleanup and restoration industry, visit our FAQ and Glossary.   

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