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Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Sled riders enjoy a fresh blanket of snow on Popperton Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — The United States has suffered a bit of a cold spell this week.

As headlines put it, a polar vortex descended upon the country. Areas in the Midwest experienced “once-in-a-generation” below zero temperature in Chicago, Minnesota and Iowa.

So: Will Utah ever experience a polar vortex?

No, according to KSL meteorologist Kevin Eubank.

That’s because “polar vortex” is a made-up term, one that meteorologists laugh about, Eubank said.

Eubank said the term “polar vortex” is a headline-grabbing name for what's really just a cold storm. The low pressure, cold air floods down from the North Pole and descends upon the United States and sweeps eastward.

  • Context: The National Weather Service defines a "polar vortex" as a counter-clockwise flow of cold air from the North Pole, adding that it's "only recently been popularized, bringing attention to a weather feature that has always been present."
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Cars navigate snow-covered streets on 800 South in Salt Lake City during a winter storm on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019.

So, no, Utah won’t experience that specific weather pattern. But it doesn’t mean Utah won’t experience temperatures similar to the Midwest’s chilly temperatures.

  • “If you’re asking if a cold storm can come to Utah, if it has origins of the cold air at the pole, or, in essence, the Arctic — yes. We get polar air or arctic air to Utah all the time,” he said.

Still: Utah will experience temperatures as cold as Chicago, Minnesota and the Midwest had this week.

In fact, it’s already happened.

By the numbers: A quick look at the record books show Utah temperatures aren’t that uncommon from those we’ve seen in the Midwest.

10 comments on this story
  • Peter Sinks, Utah, holds the record of the second-lowest temperatures in the contiguous 48 United States at minus 69 degrees Fahrenheit, which happened on Feb. 1, 1985.
  • Roger’s Pass, Montana, has the coldest temperatureamong the 48 states with minus 70.0 degrees.
  • Prospect Creek, Alaska, holds the overall record with minus 80 degrees, which occurred on Jan. 23, 1971.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News
University of Utah students walk through the snow near the Marriott Library on campus in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018.

This year: Peter Sinks experienced minus 40 temperatures this year, too, showing it’s possible for Utah to experience temperatures similar to what we saw in the Midwest, Eubank said.

  • “You hear about this polar vortex and how crazy it is,” Eubank said. “Well it’s not that unusual, No. 1. And No. 2, Utah’s had temperatures that equal to or are colder than what they‘ve experienced over there.”