Polar Vortex Set to Whip Up Strong Winds, Freezing Temperatures, and Snow

May 9, 2020 Updated: May 9, 2020

In stark contrast to last week’s sunny weather, more than 100 million Americans will see temperatures drop below freezing this weekend.

At least 20 states are under a frost or freeze watch, warning or advisory in the morning on May 9. Although most of those states are in the Midwest or Northeast, the advisories stretch all the way down to Georgia and South Carolina.

In some Northeast states, it will feel more like early March than May. A system that began in the Great Lakes region will bring gusty winds and 6 to 12 inches of wet snow to New England.

A woman wearing a protective mask
A woman wearing a protective mask walks along the Esplanade, , in Boston, on May 1, 2020. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)

“It appears that interior New England will see significant amounts of wet snow with northerly winds becoming increasingly strong and gusty late Friday night into Saturday morning,” the Weather Prediction Center said.

For cities like New York, Albany and Hartford, cold rain will be the main focus, but some snow could mix in.

A forecast of the polar vortex
A forecast of the polar vortex. (CNN Weather)

The Polar Vortex

The polar vortex is a circulation of strong, upper-level winds that normally surround the northern pole, moving in a west to east direction—a polar low-pressure system.

These winds tend to keep the bitter cold air locked in the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. On occasion, the vortex can become distorted and dip farther south, allowing cold air to spill southward.

But it didn’t spill out into the United States this winter. That’s why the spring and winter have been mild and major East Coast cities saw low snowfall amounts.

Now the polar vortex is weakening, allowing Arctic air to spill out—leading to plunging temperatures in the East this weekend.

The CNN Wire contributed to this report