CBS News, not exactly a bastion of accuracy to begin with, is making a mockery of itself with its inaccurate and shamefully overblown reporting of the upcoming cold snap as a "massive polar vortex" that will "impact hundreds of millions of people." 'Tis the season.
For the past couple of days, the news network has pushed the shaky "polar vortex" narrative hard, even using theoretical physicist Michio Kaku to lend credence to their hype with the proclamation that "all hell will break loose by midweek." Last summer, Kaku blamed the summer's record low temperatures on the polar vortex, calling the ever-present Arctic weather feature a "tornado of cold air."
Instead of turning to a theoretical physicist, the news agency would do a service to its viewers and itself to consult with the many excellent meteorologists employed by its affiliates around the country before it reports on a topic its reporters know very little about.
CBS News ran the story on their Saturday morning news show, and published the video on its website shortly thereafter. The anchor introduces viewers to the upcoming cold snap as the "dreaded return of the polar vortex" that's aiming for the United States as direct result of the remnants of Typhoon Nuri—which the anchor says caused wind gusts up to "100 miles," whatever that means.
The report goes over to meteorologist Ed Curran at the network's Chicago affiliate, and to his credit, he doesn't characterize the cold snap as a "polar vortex." It would have been better if he had corrected his newsroom colleague, but it's understandable when one doesn't bite the hand that feeds them.
The upcoming cold snap is not the polar vortex. The polar vortex is something that's always been around, but it gained legs last winter as a new, scary-sounding way to describe cold weather on social media. The polar vortex is a large cyclone that sits over the Arctic, serving as sort of a wall that keeps cold air confined to the far northern latitudes. Sometimes the polar vortex becomes unstable and pieces of it break off—if one of these broken pieces swings down over Canada or the United States, it can bring with it bitterly cold air like we saw last winter.
The following image shows a piece of the polar vortex sitting over the Great Lakes and Ontario on January 8, 2014:
The following image shows the same level of the atmosphere next Wednesday, devoid of a polar vortex over the United States. The closest piece of the polar vortex is up in the Arctic near Greenland, where it's supposed to be:
As NBC Connecticut meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan Tweeted on Friday:
Find the polar vortex next weekend!!!! Guess where it's not???? pic.twitter.com/Bn87Hkz2db
— Ryan Hanrahan (@ryanhanrahan) November 7, 2014
I can name at least one news organization that would get the answer wrong.