News & Views » Local News

What The Hell Is A Polar Vortex?

Snow, then frigid cold freezes the Motor City.


  • Courtesy photo

What the hell is a polar vortex? First off, it certainly isn’t something one would find in hell — unless you’re talking about Hell, Mich., during the first week of January 2014.

After getting slammed by more than a foot of snow over the last couple of days, a blast of brutally cold air — courtesy of a system called a polar vortex — is thundering across central and eastern parts of the country over the next couple of days. The polar vortex is a low-pressure area that usually wanders around the Arctic throughout the winter, sending occasional waves of intensely cold air into the lower 48 states.

According to media reports, the winter storm that blanketed the region with snowfall totals ranging from 17 inches in Flint to more than 10 inches in Detroit has been blamed for four deaths so far. According to the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office, three of those were attributed to heart attacks from shoveling snow.

Adding insult to injury, the frigid temperatures that followed the snow dump continued to wreak havoc on drivers, businesses and schools just coming off winter break.

As MT went to press on Monday, Jan. 6, schools across the metro area were closed and planned to remain that way on Tuesday. Dangerously cold temperatures — expected to be the coldest we’ve seen in the metro area for years — and wind chills at 20 to 40 below zero were forecasted.

Since New Year’s Day, accumulation at Detroit Metro Airport reportedly reached 21 inches by press time. Those numbers are likely to rise by the time you read this. The amount of snowfall in and around the Detroit area is on track to break records and become the snowiest January we’ve seen — ever.


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.