What Is A Polar Vortex?

“The polar vortex is NOT a recently discovered phenomenon. In fact, it has been talked about in the meteorological community for decades,” said Senior Meteorologist, Bernie Rayno.

A polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, typically the coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere, which sits over the polar region during the winter season. The frigid air can find its way into the United States when the polar vortex is pushed farther south, occasionally reaching Southern Canada and the Northern Plains, the Midwest and Northeastern portions of the United States.

A large, powerful, high-pressure system originating in the Eastern or Western Pacific and stretching to the North Pole is required to displace the pocket of cold air. “These high-pressure systems can reach Alaska, but it is not typical for them to stretch all the way to the North Pole,” according to Senior Meteorologist, Brett Anderson.

Preventing Automatic Sprinkler System Freeze-ups

A common, yet significant winter challenge is knowing how to prevent interior water pipes from freezing. Nearly all commercial buildings have automatic sprinkler systems in place to protect against fire. While a fire can cause monumental loss, so can its polar opposite — ice.

A freeze-up of automatic sprinkler system pipes, often times caused by insufficient heating, can result in burst piping and subsequent water damage to a building and its contents. If a fire occurred while the sprinkler system was incapacitated, the resulting loss could be catastrophic.

To prevent sprinkler system pipes from freezing, these standard building management procedures should be followed:

  • Prior to the official start of winter, the building’s heating system should be completely serviced, then checked regularly throughout the cold months.
  • The structural components of the building should be inspected for any deficiencies (i.e. broken windows, wall cracks) and repaired promptly.
  • Temperatures in areas protected by wet pipe systems should be kept above 40°F.
  • Adequate heat should be provided to concealed areas (i.e. attics, areas above ceilings) where sprinkler piping has been installed.
  • Piping for outdoor systems should be buried below the frost level to prevent freezing. Exposed piping should either be insulated or heated.
  • Although less susceptible to freeze-ups, dry pipe systems should also be included in any winterizing program.
  • Gravity tanks should be checked for leaks and overflows. Should leaking or overflowing water freeze, it could cause structural damage and the subsequent collapse of the tank.
  • Fire pumps should be kept in a heated room and tested periodically. Suction taken from open water should have lines buried below the frost level and intake screens should be kept clear of ice.
  • Fire hydrants and valves should be kept clear of snow and ice to prevent freezing. Fire hydrants should be checked for adequate drainage and post indicator valves should be checked for leakage.
  • Once winter has arrived, management should keep a close watch on weather conditions. All commercial buildings and facilities should have a plan in place for handling extreme snowfalls and cold spells that may lead to problems
  • Supervisory personnel should be provided with a list of emergency numbers to call in caseof trouble.

Despite following all of the recommended procedures, a freeze-up may still occur. If that happens, management should contact the experts for repair, rather than attempt to make repairs in a “Do-It-Yourself” manner.

You can learn more about dealing with cold weather by visiting the FEMA website