Blistering cold air from the Arctic plunged southward this winter, breaking U.S. temperature records. On January 6, 2014, alone, approximately 50 daily record low temperatures were set, from Colorado to Alabama to New York, according to the National Weather Service. In some places temperatures were 40 degrees Fahrenheit colder than average.
A pattern of winter winds that spin high above the Arctic, known as the polar vortex, typically blow in a fairly tight circular formation. But in late December 2013 and early January 2014, the winds loosened and frigid Arctic air spilled farther south than usual, deep into the continental United States.
This image is made possible by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit, AMSU. The two work in tandem to sense emitted infrared and microwave radiation from the Earth to provide a three-dimensional look at Earth’s weather and climate. The two instruments make simultaneous observations all the way down to the Earth’s surface, even in the presence of heavy clouds.
The video below explains it more fully, or click here to go to NASA’s page on The Big Chill.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.