No, the polar vortex is not coming to devour Texas, but winter is probably not yet over

At least 422* times per winter (*approximately), the question of whether “the polar vortex is coming” seems to come up. The sources are many: Rogue social mediarologists who want engagement, well-intentioned meteorologists who are just trying to explain something but the wrong takeaway gets amplified, not-well-intentioned meteorologists who can’t help themselves, and weather enthusiasts who are misinterpreting model guidance.

“An image of a map featuring an abominable snowman devouring Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.” (ChatGPT)

We are in one of those phases now, so is the polar vortex coming for us again like it (sort of) did in January?

Just to get the science lesson quickly out of the way: Recall that the polar vortex is always there. It’s a permanent feature that typically sits over the North Pole, keeping the hemisphere’s coldest air in the polar region. When we refer to the “polar vortex,” what we’re really referring to is the stratospheric polar vortex, which sits miles above the North Pole but keeps the cold locked in. During the wintertime, every so often something will happen where that cold can be dislodged and dumped into the mid-latitudes leading to cold air outbreaks over the North America, Europe, or Asia. How does that happen? Periodically, you’ll get a warming event in the stratosphere that eventually works downward, first displacing or splitting the polar vortex and then leading to high latitude atmospheric blocking that warms the Arctic and sends cold south. This is what can unleash some of that more noteworthy cold air.

A visual representation of the polar vortex when it’s stable (left) and disrupted (right). (NOAA)

The process is really complicated and fairly often, stratospheric warming does not lead to significant polar vortex disruption. But almost every time there is a warming event, you now hear about it because of what I noted in the opening paragraph.

So what is happening now?

If you look at the forecast weather map today, you can see a pretty anti-winter look in the Eastern half of the country, with very mild air from Hudson Bay south to the Gulf. The West is stormy. Most of the cold is up near Alaska or Siberia and over Scandinavia.

Today’s upper air map showing the pattern at 20,000 feet with a large ridge of high pressure stretching from Hudson Bay south to the Gulf, keeping any cold in the West and any strong cold over higher latitudes. (Tropical Tidbits)

Over the next 10 days or so, this pattern is going to change rather dramatically. The ridging in place from Hudson Bay to the Gulf will weaken. The pretty neutral pattern from Alaska through the Arctic to Greenland is going to block up and warm. This will allow cold to displace back southward into lower latitudes in North America. The real serious cold is probably going to go on the other side of the globe, dumping into Russia and portions of Central Asia. One way to proxy this is to look at the Arctic Oscillation (AO). In a nutshell, the AO is a barometer for high latitude blocking over the Arctic. It’s far more complicated than just using one index to determine the fate of the weather. But in situations like this, it can help.

A forecast (and this winter’s history) of the Arctic Oscillation, projected to turn sharply negative over the next two weeks. (NOAA)

What does it tell us? When the AO is positive, it generally indicates that the Arctic will be cold. It can be assumed most of the time that the polar vortex is sort of in place, in its home over the North Pole. When the AO turns negative, it tends to mean that something has happened in the Arctic that leads to milder conditions and a weaker polar vortex, allowing cold to meander away from the North Pole and toward the populous mid-latitudes. Notice on the chart above that back in mid-January, we had a negative AO, which led to the cold outbreak. Also notice that not every negative AO produces excessive cold! We had a pretty strong bout of negative Arctic Oscillation conditions back in early December, which coincided with Houston’s most recent 80 degree day. We did turn colder after that day, but not excessively so.

Anyway, the AO is forecast to go negative, strongly so around mid-February. This gets a lot of meteorologists’ attention, and justifiably so. It’s a strong signal for strong blocking in the polar region. And indeed, if you look at the Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for days 8 through 14, it shows colder than normal temps forecast over a broad portion of the Lower 48.

The 8 to 14 day outlook calls for moderate confidence that below normal temperatures will extend from the East Coast back across Texas and into the Rockies. (NOAA CPC)

Now, this map is plenty cold for sure. But it’s also moderate confidence. In other words, we’re not super confident in major cold right now. This meteorologist would say we are moderately confident in moderate cold. Frankly, modeling has been a little underwhelming with respect to the cold in mid-February. Some of the modeling that picked up on the ferocity of the January cold early on is not exactly doing so now, though it is forecasting cold. So at this point at least, a repeat of a January 2024-like cold outbreak in Texas seems like a longshot. But it’s going to be cold, and no, we cannot rule out a another (modest) freeze before winter ends.

This setup may be more interesting for the Southeast, particularly with a lot of moisture getting pumped in from California again. If you could perhaps combine some of that moisture into a well-timed low pressure system in the Southeast with some meaningful cold air, we could see some wintry weather in the South or Mid-Atlantic somewhere through late month.

Rain and storms overnight give way to a decent Saturday afternoon and a windy Sunday

Summary: Dense fog this morning will give way to some clearing. Rain arrives tonight, heavy at times after midnight and early Saturday morning. Thunder and lightning are likely, and a couple storms could be strong to severe. After an inch or two of rain and some ponding, we’ll see much nicer weather Saturday afternoon, followed by a windy Sunday. Some cooler weather arrives early next week.

Also, we’re going through one of those phases like in December where we have had enough high clouds to occasionally allow for spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

You can always email us or message us photos on Instagram or Twitter or whatnot!


We’ve got a generally nice, calm day ahead. There is some dense fog this morning, so through about 9 AM or so, you may need to contend with that. Tomball visibility is a quarter-mile as I write this, as is Conroe, Wharton, and Colorado County. So give yourself a minute or two extra getting out the door. Otherwise, we’ll see sun and clouds with highs in the low to mid-70s today and a bit of humidity. Clouds become a little more common later, and some showers may begin as early as sunset.

Tonight and Saturday

Look for rain to become a little more persistent or heavier after midnight tonight. Periods of rain and embedded thunderstorms will continue overnight into Saturday morning, and most of it will actually be done before Noon tomorrow. We may even see a return to sunshine tomorrow afternoon.

Anywhere from an inch or two should fall on average across the area overnight and Saturday morning. No serious flooding is expected, but watch for ponding on roads tomorrow morning. (Pivotal Weather)

In terms of rain totals, most will see 1 to 2 inches on average. The Matagorda Bay and Corpus Christi areas will probably see less than that. But this will be another healthy rainmaker for most of the region. We don’t expect much in the way of severe weather right now, but a storm or two could become strong to severe early Saturday. The main issue would be strong winds briefly in those storms. We’ll probably have a fair bit of lightning and thunder though.

Low temps tonight will dip into the low-60s, with highs tomorrow in the 70s. Overall, your morning plans will be dicey tomorrow, but the afternoon looks perfectly fine we think.

Sunday and Monday

Both Sunday and Monday should see a good deal of sunshine, though a few extra clouds may pepper the sky Monday. The big thing you’ll notice are winds and cooler temperatures. Highs will be in the 60s on Sunday and lower-60s Monday, with lows in the 40s and 50s. So we take a step back cooler here. But the wind will be whipping a bit on Sunday. Look for west to northwest winds of 15 to 25 mph and gusts to 30 mph or a bit stronger. Monday should be calmer, though there will be lingering wind over the water.

Tuesday morning will have a little chill in the air with 40s in most spots. (Pivotal Weather)

Rest of next week

After a cool start to the week, we’ll warm back up later next week with temps back into the 70s by Wednesday or Thursday. Our next chance at rain probably arrives next Thursday or Friday. It does appear that a generally wet pattern is expected heading into the second week of the forecast.

It is expected to be generally wetter than normal heading into mid-February, but it’s too soon to say exactly how that will play out. (NOAA)

Exactly what it means is TBD, as these are probabilistic maps, which say that the forecast leans above normal. But in general, it looks like next Friday or Saturday-ish will be our next decent chance at rain. We continue to get questions about mid-month cold chances. As of now, we don’t think anything significant will impact Texas, but we’ll keep watching.

Last gasp of rainfall later today in Houston, for now at least

Summary: We have one final round of rain showers to get through today, although this will be a mere drop in the bucket compared to what fell earlier this week. We then have an extended stretch of dry weather through probably next Thursday or Friday before rain chances re-enter the forecast. Temperatures will be fairly temperate, with a couple cooler days through the period.

Rainfall summary

For Houston, this will officially be at least our 8th wettest January on record. Bush Airport has picked up 8.28″ of rain this month so far. Hobby sits at 7.48″, making it the 6th wettest January. Galveston is at a more meager 5.20″ of rain officially at Scholes Airport, though a rain gauge near The Strand is up over 9 inches this month.

A sampling of rain so far this month as of last night across Harris County and the immediate surrounding areas. It’s been a soggy, soggy month. (Harris County Flood Control)

Many larger rivers remain in moderate to even major flood (West Fork of the San Jacinto & Trinity). The National Weather Service has an interactive map with gauges across the region that you can check out for more details.


Watch for some dense fog around the area this morning which could slow you down a bit heading out the door. Otherwise, we will just see clouds through midday. Scattered to numerous showers should crop up this afternoon, after about 1 or 2 PM. The good news is that rain totals are expected to be less than a half-inch and probably closer to a quarter-inch in most cases. Thus, we do not anticipate any flooding concerns today. Showers will exit the area by about midnight or so tonight.

It will be a bit cooler today with highs in the mid-60s, after we hit 71 degrees yesterday officially.


Saturday looks like a cooler sort of day with temperatures warming from the low to mid-50s into the upper-50s to low-60s and a good deal of cloud cover. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a few spotty (inconsequential) showers or some light rain for a brief time in spots, especially north and east of Houston. Otherwise, just mostly cloudy.

We dip into the 40s in most spots on Saturday night and Sunday morning before a very nice day Sunday, Sunshine and mid to upper-50s are on the menu.

Monday morning should be the coldest of the next several days, with 30s in much of the area to near 40 in the city of Houston. (Pivotal Weather)

Monday through Wednesday

Monday will be the coldest morning of this batch of days, with lows in the 30s over a good chunk of the area and around 40 in Houston proper. We’ll have another nice day Monday with sun, some high clouds, and highs in the lower half of the 60s.

Tuesday and Wednesday should see sunshine, although high clouds may spoil that at times. Remember early December, when we had all those spectacular sunsets and an almost permanent deck of cirrus clouds streaming by? We may be setting up in a similar sort of pattern again. Either way, expect highs in the mid-60s Tuesday and upper-60s Wednesday, with lows in the 40s.

Late next week

The pattern begins to change later next week, as another vigorous disturbance emerges out of the Pacific Ocean. This one should crash ashore in California, move through the desert, and emerge over the Southern Plains around next weekend.

A map of the forecast about 20,000 feet over our heads between next Wednesday night and Sunday showers a disturbance hitting California and working eastward toward Texas. This will bring increasing rain chances back to the area, though we cannot pin down details yet. (Tropical Tidbits)

The exact intensity, timing, and orientation of this upper level system will determine exactly how significant our rain chances will be. But there is good model agreement on something barging through here next weekend with a round of rain. Ahead of it, probably continued 60s, lows in the 40s and 50s, and perhaps some coastal sea fog.

Back to a slightly less harsh, rather brief dose of winter in Houston before next week’s rain

Summary: A hard freeze is likely north of Houston tonight, while much of the area sees 20s for lows. A light freeze is possible tomorrow night before we warm up. Next week’s rain chances are coming into better focus, with Monday and perhaps Wednesday seeing the most rain, but chances persisting all week long. Localized flooding is something we’ll be watching for, but we’re hopeful the rain is spread out over a long enough period to avoid anything too serious. We’ll have another update on this by Sunday.

Today & Saturday

We’re back at it today, with gusty winds and chilly temperatures, as a second plunge of cold air descends on Texas. This one is much more moderate than the one we saw earlier this week, but still after yesterday’s mid-60s, today’s blustery 40s will feel cold. But, we have the sun, so that counts for something. Winds will be 15 to 25 mph, with gusts to 30 mph, stronger over the water.

In terms of tonight’s freeze, as winds settle and skies remain clear, temps should drop efficiently into the 20s virtually everywhere away from the coast. For the city of Houston and most areas south or east, this will be a light freeze. Northern and western outlying areas are at risk for a brief hard freeze tonight, with lows expected in the mid-20s for The Woodlands, Conroe*, and Brenham. (*Conroe is always an interesting case given that they consistently record the coldest temps in the region, likely due to the location of the airport. So it’s possible they dip into the upper teens tonight)

Overnight lows will be in the 20s away from the coast, with low to mid-20s north and a hard freeze likely up that way. (Pivotal Weather)

This will still be about 6 to 10 degrees milder than the hard freeze earlier this week but certainly still capable of hazards to exposed plants (and pets).

Saturday will be breezy and chilly but a little less harsh than Friday. We should see highs in the mid to upper-40s with breezes of 10 to 15 mph or a bit gustier at times. Expect sunshine as well.


Expect one more risk of a freeze Sunday morning, mainly north and northeast of Houston. A hard freeze is unlikely anywhere in our area. We will see increasing clouds with a chance of a few showers as early as Sunday afternoon, as high temperatures slow-climb into the low-50s (40s again north).

Next week

The rain we expect next week continues to show up in the forecast rather substantially. We’re starting to hone in on when the worst of it may be now. It looks like we have one pretty strong disturbance that moves through the area on Monday, which should mean numerous to widespread showers and thunderstorms.

The entire region between Victoria and Matagorda through Lake Charles is highlighted under a slight (level 2/3) risk of excessive rainfall on Monday. (NOAA)

This could deliver us anywhere from 1 to 4 inches of rain, and locally higher amounts can’t be ruled out. I would probably say the highest totals may fall to the south and east of Houston, but that is a very low confidence forecast call right now.

Tuesday should see isolated to scattered showers and storms. Rainfall should be a bit more erratic here, with some places seeing a quarter-inch or less and others another 1 to 2 inches perhaps. Then Wednesday may see another strong disturbance with the potential for at least another 1 to 2 inches over a broad area, with higher amounts.

Additional shower chances will follow Thursday and Friday, but it’s tough to say what those look like right now. When all is said and done, the rainfall amounts will tally 3 to 8 inches by Thursday, with higher amounts possible.

Does this mean flooding? It may. With the ground rather firm after this week’s freeze and the subsequent one this weekend, a lot of this water will be quick to run off, which means ponding and street flooding are a good bet in the usual trouble spots. The hope is that the total rainfall will be spread out over a long enough period with enough breaks in between that we avoid any more serious flooding, but it’s something we’ll continue to monitor this weekend. We’re going to especially watch to see how watersheds like Cypress Creek, Spring Creek, the San Jacinto River, and other slower responding basins handle this. This will also impact the Beaumont and Lake Charles areas to some extent. Which location wins the rainfall derby is still TBD.

After a cold weekend, a very mild week is in store. (Weather Bell)

What about temperatures, you ask? We should see high temperatures well into the 60s most of next week with lows generally in the 50s to low-60s. This may also lead to periods of sea fog on Galveston Island, Bolivar, and along the bays. Maybe some cooler weather resumes by next weekend.

We will have another update for you by Sunday regarding Monday and next week’s rainfall, and I expect we will be implementing our flood scale then as well.