January 6, 2023 marks nine years since the meteorological term “polar vortex” became a part of many folks’ vocabularies. When we think of cold snaps in the Storm Team 27 Weather Center, the January 2014 arctic air insurgence was the event that came front of mind in recent years. That is, until the early, and mostly unwanted, Christmas gift of 2022. This is a look at how those two outbreaks of frigid air compare and differ.

When did each arctic outbreak occur?

In January 2014, arctic air plunged into the central and eastern parts of the U.S. as a lobe of the polar vortex dove into the eastern part of the U.S. That arctic air began pouring into the U.S. on January 4, 2014. It reached our area on January 6, 2014, sending temperatures below zero in a matter of hours. Accompanying gusty winds led to dangerously cold wind chills across the region.

This past December, we began watching arctic air start pouring into the Rocky Mountain west and north central Plains on Wednesday, December 21. The arctic air continued to plunge south and east through the end of Christmas week, reaching the Valley on the eve of Christmas Eve. Temperatures rapidly dropped during the early morning hours of December 23, 2022, falling below zero by morning. Strong winds developed as a strengthening area of low pressure developed over the Great Lakes, keeping frigid wind chills in the area into Christmas Eve.

Which arctic blast came with the highest temperature drop?

Winner-January 2014
The 2014 arctic front led to a greater drop in temperatures compared to 2022. The high on January 6, 2014 was 46°. After the arctic cold front passed, temperatures plunged to -11° before the clock struck midnight. That is a 57° drop in temperatures!

December 2022
Temperatures were fairly mild before the December 23, 2022 arctic blast arrived. Temperatures were around 40° at midnight on December 23. The arctic front arrived overnight and sent temperatures down to an afternoon low of -5°. While that was quite the drop in temperature, it wasn’t as extreme as January 2014. The temperatures dropped 45° on December 23, 2022.

Temperature drop recorded at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport on January 6, 2014 and December 23, 2022

Which arctic blast stuck around longer?

Winner-December 2022
For this section, we are looking at how long it took for temperatures to rise back above freezing after the arrival of the arctic air. After temperatures fell below freezing in the early morning hours of December 23, 2022, it took four days before temperatures went back above the freezing mark of 32°. The result was our coldest Christmas Eve and Christmas Day since 1983.

January 2014
The January 6, 2014 arctic outbreak didn’t stick around as long. Temperatures remained below the freezing mark of 32° for three days with that outbreak.

Days below 32° after the temperature drops recorded at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport on January 6, 2014 and December 23, 2022

Which outbreak resulted in the coldest day?

Winner-January 2014
After the 57° temperature drop on January 6, 2014 came a frigid January 7. The high temperature on January 7, 2014 only reached 2°. That set the record, which still stands, for the coldest high temperature on that date. The low temperature was -12° which is still the record low for January 7.

December 2022
The day after the 45° temperature drop was Christmas Eve 2022. While it was the coldest Christmas Eve in 39 years, no records were set on Christmas Eve 2022. The high was 12° and the low was -3°. The coldest Christmas Eve on record happened 39 years prior to that date in 1983 with a high of 8° and a low of -12°.

Coldest day recorded at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport with the January 6, 2014 and December 23, 2022 arctic outbreaks.

Which outbreak brought the most snow?

Winner-December 2022
While it may not have seemed like it with all the gusty winds blowing snow around, we recorded 4.3″ of snowfall at the airport in Trumbull County on December 23. There were trace amounts of snowfall reported on December 24 and 25, 2022.

January 2014
Only 1″ of snowfall was recorded with the January 2014 arctic outbreak. While there wasn’t a lot of snow, there was a flash freeze. 0.18″ of liquid precipitation fell before the quick transition to snow, which resulted in widespread icy conditions.

Snowfall recorded at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport on January 6, 2014 and December 23, 2022

Which outbreak had the more extreme wind chills?

Below is a snapshot of wind chill readings during the peak of both arctic outbreaks. Slide the slider to the right to see the wind chill map locally from January 6, 2014 and to the left to see the map on December 23, 2022.

Side-by-side comparison of wind chill reports from the January 6, 2014 arctic outbreak and the December 23, 2022 arctic outbreak

Winner-January 2014
The colder wind chills occurred with the January 2014 outbreak. Wind chills dropped to -38° at the airport in Trumbull County on January 6, 2014. The same frigid airmass and gusty winds resulted in wind chills dropping to -38° for part of the day on January 7, 2014 as well.

December 2022
The lowest wind chills with the December outbreak occurred the day the arctic air arrived. Wind chills dipped to -31° on December 23, 2022. Wind chills stayed frigid on December 24 with the lowest reading coming in at -29°.

Lowest wind chill recorded at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport on January 6/7, 2014 and December 23/24, 2022

Which outbreak was followed by the greater temperature spike?

Winner-December 2022
Though it took a little longer to get there, the temperature spike that followed the December 2022 outbreak was a greater climb. Temperatures bottomed out at -5°, a new record low, on December 23. Just seven days later, we reached a record-high temperature of 63° on December 30. That is a difference of 68°! If you consider the lowest wind chill temperature of -31° on December 23, then the difference would be 94°!

January 2014
Though a shorter time to climb, the spike wasn’t as great between the lowest low temperature and the next peak in temperatures in January 2014. In five days, temperatures climbed 64° from the lowest low to highest high before another temperature drop. The high on January 11, 2014 reached 52°, just five days after the low of -12° was recorded on January 7. If you were to consider the climb from the lowest wind chill of -38° then it would be a climb of 90°!

The difference in temperature from the lowest low to the next highest high before another drop in temperatures at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Airport following the January 6, 2014 and December 23, 2022 arctic outbreaks.

Which outbreak was the overall winner?

You can make arguments for either outbreak being the more impactful arctic outbreak. Based on this comparison, it is a tie between which outbreak won each category. But if you look at it solely based on the numbers, the January 6, 2014 arctic outbreak brought much colder air to the Valley, much more frigid wind chills and a more drastic swing in temperatures.

On the other hand, the timing of the December 2022 outbreak made the insurgence of arctic air much more impactful. Arriving just before the Christmas holiday, one of the busiest travel times of the year, the plunge in temperatures and storm system accompanying it canceled flights and altered holiday plans for millions. It brought blizzard conditions to parts of the country that grounded flights, aided in the meltdown of a major airline and resulted in several deaths when people became stranded in impassable blizzard conditions.

One thing that is true of both systems, many people will remember each of them for many years to come.