(WXYZ) — The term "polar vortex" is not a media creation. It is, however, meteorological jargon, and doesn't really help explain to the average person why it's so cold.
From the Glossary of Meteorology, a polar vortex is: "The planetary-scale cyclonic circulation, centered generally in the polar regions, extending from the middle troposphere to the stratosphere. The vortex is strongest in winter when the pole-to-equator temperature gradient is strongest."
It often has two centers, one near Baffin island and the other over northeast Siberia.
Basically the steering jet stream winds drove a large chunk of very cold air from the arctic into parts of North America that don't usually get it.