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Weather Talk: When is air 'arctic?'

"At what temperature is cold weather considered 'arctic?' " This very good question came into the weather office this week. Actually, there is no temperature consideration at all.

"Arctic air" does not refer to a certain temperature. Rather, "Arctic air" is a reference to the source region of a mass of air.

Air that comes to us from near or north of the Arctic Circle is considered arctic. During winter, the weather that comes our way from these regions is extremely cold due to the lack of sunlight.

The cold air we endured from Christmas into early January was of Arctic origin. However, the cold weather of the recent past had been drifting around the northern Plains and Canadian prairie provinces for weeks and would not be considered "Arctic."

Air that comes our way from the Arctic Circle in spring is likely to be a lot less frigid than wintertime Arctic air, but would still be considered Arctic because of its origin.

John Wheeler

John was born in Baton Rouge, LA, and grew up near Birmingham, Alabama. As a teenager, his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and later to a small town in northeast Iowa. John traces his early interest in weather to the difference in climate between Alabama and Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in meteorology. Like any meteorologist, John is intrigued by extremes of weather, especially arctic air outbreaks and winter storms.  John has been known to say he prefers his summers to be hot but in winter, he prefers the cold.  When away from work, John enjoys long-distance running and reading.  John has been a meteorologist at WDAY since May of 1985.

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