What is a Polar Vortex?

Hey! It’s Heather here. When’s the last time you heard of a polar vortex? I bet unless you are a weather junky or live in some crazy cold kind of climate you have no idea. I grew up in Up-State NY, home of “you know spring is coming when your nose and ears don’t freeze the instant you go outside” Living in Pennsylvania this “thermometer goes below 0 business” is a little out there. It also makes this new weather a perfect science lesson because from 5th grade down to kindergarten my kids had no idea what a polar vortex is, and neither did this 30+ year old teacher mom.

polar vortex

So what exactly is a polar vortex?

That’s the question of the day around here and the kids weighed in.

  • 5th grader – Well, I know what a vortex is. It means entrance to another world.
  • 3rd grader – “Polar” and “travels places” means it only goes to the north and south pole.
  • Kindergartener – when there’s snow, I guess (notice no period since it’s a fragment)

This article was the most comprehensive article I found explaining a polar vortex and why a “persistent, large scale cyclone”, which generally occurs near the poles is affecting us with such brutally cold temperatures. Notice my 3rd grader is a real thinker and totally got the “polar” part.

The good news? The weather is suppose to be set up perfectly to keep shoving that Arctic wind south and away from us, bringing in much warmer weather. I am pretty sure we are going to think 30 degrees is summer after these last few days. Even stranger is they are talking about it being in the 50’s this weekend. Maybe we will head to the zoo!

We tried out some “polar vortex fun”. First up, boiling water thrown into the air, creating snow. We didn’t create artificial snow. It just wasn’t quite cold enough where we are. However, a majority of the water turned into crazy hissing steam as soon as it hit the air. I’m slightly confused. It looked like what other people were showing but with my own 2 eyes ours just looked like some crazy white steam. Either way, the kids were impressed and we tried something new – standing outside our door, in 0 degree weather, wearing socks and chucking boiling water into the air. My neighbor probably thinks I am certifiable.

homeschool cold temp experiments

Frozen Marbles – We have to try this!!

Frozen Bubbles - How cool are these?!


  1. Thank you! I have been curious about what Polar Vortex meant… but had not gotten around to googling it yet! I wish I tried the boiling water with my kids. Maybe the frozen bubbles next time!

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