How to Stay Ahead of D.C.'s Polar Vortex
snow on capitol
Temperatures are expected to plunge this week in the Washington, D.C., area and it’s all being blamed on a polar vortex.
It’s a term many Washingtonians have come to know well as the reason the area’s relatively mild winters can suddenly take a turn toward the bitterly cold.
But what exactly is a polar vortex? Turns out, it’s not something nearly as fearful as it sounds.
WTOP tries to set the record straight by letting residents know that a polar vortex is nothing new, although the term itself seems to suddenly be on everyone’s wind-blown lips.
What is a Polar Vortex?
In simplest terms, a polar vortex is a large-scale, upper-level cyclone near one or both of the earth’s poles.
Such a vortex exists all year, but it tends to weaken during summer and strengthen during winter, so you can’t blame next summer’s heat wave on it.
In late fall and winter, it’s not uncommon for a piece of the vortex to break off and head southward causing an abrupt blast of chilling temperatures.
That’s exactly what’s happening this week as the vortex dips toward the United States and pushes arctic air southward.
You can expect lower temperatures toward the end of the week around the nation’s capital with lows hovering near the freezing mark.
By then, however, it may be too late to protect your home from the damages associated with winter.
While some local residents take a light-hearted approach to a polar vortex — like pointing out the best bars for you to hunker down — home owners might be better served to take a more serious approach and use the occasion to prepare.
Here are five reminders for your home, so you aren’t caught off guard with this vortex or any other this winter.
Maintain Your Heater
The best way to maintain your furnace’s efficiency is to change your filter every six months to one year. You also should consider having a highly rated local HVAC specialist check your furnace, give it a tune up and make sure it is in top working order.
If you have a wood fireplace, stock up on logs. If you use heating oil, then make sure plenty is on hand.
Wrap Those Pipes
To increase your heater’s efficiency, check all the ducts in your heating system and cover any leaks in the system with metal-backed tape (it reflects heat better than duct tape.)
While you’re at it, find any exposed pipes and wrap them in insulation. This will help keep them from freezing.
In the event they do freeze, be sure to have a plumber's number handy. Time will be of the essence.
Batten Down the Hatches
Windows are often the biggest heat-escapes in houses, as heat transfers fairly easily through a thin glass surface. If you have old-fashioned glass-pane windows, it could be costing you a fortune in heating bills.
Having someone install energy-efficient storm windows and storm doors can greatly reduce your heat loss.
Check the Perimeter
Before the onset of winter, inspect the outside of your house and make sure you have all the little cracks sealed.
A highly rated contractor can check your house for air leaks and pockets, which can be sealed with waterproof caulk for window seals and mortar for cracks in brick or concrete facades.
Reinforce Your Walls
Insulation is crucial in keeping your house warm. Insulation experts can determine if you have adequate coverage throughout your home, including the attic. In most cases, 12 inches of insulation is recommended.