Here’s an informative 2-minute video that explains the so-called “polar vortex”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eDTzV6a9F4
To see these wind currents in near-real time, check out this incredible graphic showing wind patterns around the globe: http://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/isobaric/500hPa/orthographic=-81.83,29.40,331
If you click on the globe, you can turn it. Try turning the globe to look directly up at Antarctica, and see the Roaring 40s blowing clockwise around Antarctica. Then turn the globe to look down on the North Pole to see the winds blowing counter-clockwise around the northern hemisphere. If you click on a location, you can zoom in on it using two fingers on your mouse pad. You can set the height at which the winds are displayed by clicking on the word “earth”. The wind blows a lot harder at higher elevations. Note that the velocity of the wind is color-coded.
To put New England’s cold January weather into perspective, keep in mind that Australia was suffering from an intense heat wave at the same time, with temperatures reaching 111º at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, and as high as 129º in the outback.
By Paul Lauenstein, January 28, 2014