TORONTO -- Get ready to freeze, Canada.

A polar vortex – a phenomenon in which cold air from the Arctic extends much farther south than it normally does – could hit Canadians as soon as next week, according to Environment Canada senior climatologist Dave Phillips.

"The forecast is looking like it's going to happen," Phillips said Monday on CTV News Channel.

Phillips told last week that if the vortex did occur, it likely wouldn't be until the last week of January. Now, after reviewing updated forecasts, he's moving that timetable up.

He said Manitoba and all points east will likely start to feel the effects of the vortex next week, with daily highs several degrees below freezing and overnight lows that could fall between -15 C and -20 C.

By the following week, he said, the vortex may also be gripping the three westernmost provinces, bringing overnight temperatures as low as -30 C.

"It's really been a tame and rather soft kind of a winter – and that's about to change," he said.

Phillips is not yet certain that the vortex will fall over Canada, although he describes it as likely. It's also possible that it instead puts pressure on the other side of the world, chilling northern parts of Europe and Asia.

Researchers have found that climate change is causing increased polar vortex activity over the long term. The vortex occurs when the gap between the temperature in the Arctic and the temperature farther south shrinks, weakening the jet stream and making it easier for the cold air to spill southward.

If the big chill does come, Phillips said, it might not be as intense as in some past years. In 2020, Arctic air brought a large swath of Western Canada temperatures in the -30 C range, with wind chill values making it feel closer to -50.

This year's visit from the vortex might not last for long – "maybe a week, or two weeks at the most," Phillips said, although the remaining weeks of winter are shaping up to be "certainly a little colder" than what most of Canada has seen thus far.

"Where is winter? It's been missing in action," Phillips said.

"While we are the second-coldest country in the world, and the snowiest, the polar vortex is sometimes a reality check for us."