The physical mechanism by which large-scale vortical structures augment convective heat transfer is a fundamental problem of turbulent flows. To investigate this phenomenon, two separate experiments were performed using simultaneous heat transfer and flow field measurements to study the vortex–wall interaction. Individual vortices were identified and studied both as part of a turbulent stagnation flow and as isolated vortex rings impacting on a surface. By examining the temporal evolution of both the flow field and the resulting heat transfer, it was observed that the surface thermal transport was governed by the transient interaction of the vortical structure with the wall. The magnitude of the heat transfer augmentation was dependent on the instantaneous strength, size and position of the vortex relative to the boundary layer. Based on these observations, an analytical model was developed from first principles that predicts the time-resolved surface convection using the transient properties of the vortical structure during its interaction with the wall. The analytical model was then applied, first to the simplified vortex ring model and then to the more complex stagnation region experiments. In both cases, the model was able to accurately predict the time-resolved convection resulting from the vortex interactions with the wall. These results reveal the central role of large-scale turbulent structures in the augmentation of thermal transport and establish a simple model for quantitative predictions of transient heat transfer.