Sub-zero cold spell in US Midwest easing

Olive Hawkins
February 4, 2019

Among the reported dead this week was an 18-year-old University of Iowa student.

The Washington Post reports that the dry frigid air can cause frostbite within minutes and lead to spontaneous nosebleeds.

Many offices and school reopened in the Midwest which comprises the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Shifting air currents caused it to slip down through Canada and into the Us Midwest during the week.

The death toll rose from a previous 12 after at least nine more people in Chicago were reported to have died from cold-related injuries, according to Stathis Poulakidas, a doctor at the city's John H. Hospital of Cook County, said almost 50 patients had sought treatment for frostbite in recent days, about half of them homeless. He said the most severe cases risked having fingers and toes amputated.

In Michigan two people were found frozen near their homes.

Scientists call these "sudden stratospheric warming" events, when a continent-sized chunk of rapidly sinking air (usually over Eurasia) quickly heats up and disrupts the polar circulation, sometimes completely disintegrating it. Statistically, that's when the cold air floodgates can really open as the jet stream scrambles to contain the chaotic swirls of polar air that descend southward in the aftermath. "Past record-cold waves have not dissipated this quickly ..."

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"It's important for individuals to monitor their local forecast closely and always heed the direction of local officials to stay safe when hazardous weather conditions exist", said James Joseph, FEMA Region V administrator. Chicago was hardest hit, with O'Hare International Airport experiencing over 700 cancellations, according to the FlightAware tracking site.

More than 30 record lows were shattered across the Midwest. NASA explains what we're seeing here: The lowest temperatures are shown in purple and blue and range from -40 degrees Fahrenheit (also -40 degrees Celsius) to -10 degrees Fahrenheit (-23 degrees Celsius).

Though the sun was out in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon and temperatures hovered around 15 deg C, the National Weather Service (NWS) said rain would begin to fall later in the evening and continue without let-up through Saturday night. By the end of the weekend, Chicago could see temperatures as high as 10C (50F).

The sudden weather change coming this weekend may be the fastest warm-up on record, meteorologists say.

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