Polar vortex: U.S. braces for life-threatening temperatures

Olive Hawkins
January 31, 2019

That warmth split the polar vortex, leaving the pieces to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial firm outside Boston. The wind chill is down to minus-60 degrees in Minnesota, while Chicago is nearly certainly looking at its coldest day in city history. Crews in Detroit will need days to fix water mains that burst Wednesday, and other pipes can still burst in persistent subzero temperatures.

In Fargo, North Dakota, where the temperature dropped to minus 24F (minus 31C), Dan Hallock, an advertising executive, marveled that people were still working outside as he bought coffee.

The cold air will began to moderate substantially on Monday and Tuesday.

In Chicago and Minneapolis, buses were used as roving warming shelters for the homeless.

A state of emergency has been declared in the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan and IL. In Chicago, major attractions closed because of the bitter cold, including the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Art Institute and the Field Museum.

You can see footage of the freezing conditions in the above video player.

Many normal activities shut down and residents huddled inside as the National Weather Service forecast plunging temperatures from one of the coldest air masses in years. The cold blast will be felt as far south as Florida.

"People don't want to be out there right now", said Brennan Ellis, 53, who is staying at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

"The Midwest and Great Lakes are well into this Arctic blast, with dangerously low wind chills widespread across the region this morning", meteorologist Janice Dean announced this week on "Fox and Friends".

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Even if all-time records are not broken, the National Weather Service in Chicago is calling this week's forecast "life-threatening extreme cold" that "can lead to rapid onset of frostbite and hypothermia". "Extreme and risky COLD!"

But the system has shifted south, bringing painfully cold conditions to the US Midwest and east coast. What I wasn't ready for was how deep Minnesota natives' reverence of the cold goes.

Wind chill attempts to quantify the effect in terms of how it feels on our skin, which is why you'll sometimes hear it called the "feels like" temperature. "I feel sorry for anybody that has to stay outside".

Warming centers were opened for vulnerable residents such as the elderly and shelter capacities increased for the homeless, including the approximately 16,000 people estimated to live on the streets of Chicago.

Officials planned to cancel classes for all 360,000 students in Chicago on Wednesday because of the subzero temperatures.

American Indian tribes in the Upper Midwest were doing what they could to help members in need with heating supplies. What is surprising, at least meteorologically, is that the Midwest will be colder than the North Slope of Alaska on Thursday morning.

"In coming days, expect to get even colder".

It wasn't stopping one of America's most formidable endurance tests, however - the three-day Arrowhead 135 was going on as scheduled in northeastern Minnesota. "Polar" for its typical position near the North Pole and "vortex" for the counter-clockwise motion that all low-pressure systems induce in the atmosphere in the Northern Hemisphere.

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