polar vortex

Sami / Flickr

Those of us who lived through last winter are now familiar with the term "polar vortex." But are we using that phrase correctly? Sara Schultz is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake. Exactly what IS the polar vortex? And what is it not?

Listen to Sara Schultz above

Cold temps cover 79 percent of Great Lakes in ice

Feb 9, 2014
National Park Service

CHICAGO (AP) - This winter's bitter cold temperatures in the Midwest have covered a stunning 79 percent of the Great Lakes in ice.

It's not a record, but it's well above the long-term average of about 51 percent.

Lake Michigan is about 63 percent frozen. And the second largest lake in the system, Huron, is about 85 percent covered.

Lake Erie, at 93 percent, has the most ice cover.

The data comes from the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Life-threatening wind chills are keeping Michigan's homeless shelters full. The shelters have been at or above capacity for roughly two months.

Darin Estep is the director of community engagement for Volunteers of America in Lansing. He says the ongoing cold is taking a toll.

“It’s asking a lot of folks to sleep on a cot every night,” says Estep. “It’s asking a lot of the staff to take care of the facility every night. There’s a lot of conversion that needs to take place every night to turn a day center into a sleeping area.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (AP) - Another round of frigid air is making its way into Michigan, leaving roads slippery as dangerously cold temperatures are expected in places this week.

In suburban Detroit, state police reported multiple crashes on the freeway system.

In the Upper Peninsula community of Sault Ste. Marie, it's 5 degrees below zero on Monday morning.

A hazardous weather outlook was issued for much of the state, with wind chill readings of 10 to 20 degrees below expected late Monday and early Tuesday in the southern Lower Peninsula.

Ships on Lake Superior battle ice

Jan 11, 2014
Credit Coast Guard News (CC-BY-NC-ND) / http://www.flickr.com/photos/coastguardnews/11358608774/

SUPERIOR, Wis. (AP) Ships using Lake Superior are having a tough time due to the worst build up of ice in decades.

Wisconsin Public Radio News reports the National Weather Service started tracking freeze-ups in 1978, and says this is the second-fastest and thickest ice-up in 35 years. Coast Guard Soo Vessel Traffic Director Mark Gill says this is the worst since 1989.

user GlenArborArtisans / YouTube

While temperatures are (finally) starting to climb out of subzeros across Michigan, signs of the so-called polar vortex – a low-pressure system that brought arctic temperatures across the country – are still lingering throughout the state.

For instance, boulder-sized ice balls have taken hold of the shores of Lake Michigan. Here’s a video captured on the lake’s coast in Glen Arbor, Michigan:

As MLive’s Heidi Fenton reported, the chunks form when large ice sheets break off into smaller pieces of ice. When waves hit the ice sheets, the ice chunks form into perfectly round, frigid spheres, with some estimated to weigh about 75 pounds.

If temperatures stay low enough, the ice balls – which our webmaster claims look exactly like chocolate truffles he has at home – may continue to grow, AccuWeather.com reported:

"It's possible that the ice is accreting like a snowball or like a hailstone, and that they keep growing," said AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Jim Andrews.

cncphotos / flickr

This Week in Michigan Politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley talk about a plan to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, the polar vortex and what the new leadership on Detroit City Council will mean for the city.

Purple signifies the extreme cold in the U.S.
NWS

The temperatures certainly are extreme. Last night, it was colder in Michigan than it was at the South Pole.

Parts of the state saw temperatures reach 16 below zero with wind chills exceeding 40 below zero.

The "polar vortex" has brought air to the Midwest that normally stays way up in the arctic.