Polar vortex: USA braces for life-threatening temperatures

Clark Diaz
February 1, 2019

The deadly deep freeze enveloping the Midwest sent temperatures plunging Wednesday to rival some of the most frigid spots in the world, triggering widespread closures of schools and businesses, and the canceling of more than 1,600 flights from Chicago's airports.

Mail deliveries were suspended and people encouraged to stay home in almost a dozen USA states where the mercury plunged into the negative double digits, the worst freeze to grip the region in a generation. Meteorologists have been capturing our attention, reminding us that some parts of the USA are actually colder than the Arctic right now.

Hovering around -23 F, temperatures in Chicago on its second-coldest day ever were colder than Siberia, the Arctic Circle, and even Mars.

Schools in parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa remained closed, but students headed back to school January 31 in eastern North Dakota, where the weather was forecast to crawl out of double-digit sub-zero temperatures.

The wind chill could make the Windy City feel as cold as 51 degrees below zero. And that's an improvement over Wednesday's even colder numbers. "I have a hoodie, I have my big winter coat, I have a face mask and a skullcap and still cold", Gonzalez told AFP. Airport crews worked in 15-minute increments on the tarmac to avoid frostbite.

On Tuesday, Amtrak announced that it had canceled all rail service to and from Chicago Wednesday.

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In a rare move, the US Postal Service appeared to set aside its credo that "neither snow nor rain. nor gloom of night" would stop its work as it halted deliveries from parts of the Dakotas through Ohio.

The cause of the sub-zero chill was a swirl of arctic air that broke away from the polar vortex that usually encircles the North Pole.

"This morning is some of the coldest of the temperatures across the upper Midwest and we still have some risky wind chills", Andrew Orrison, a forecaster for the National Weather Service, said in a phone interview.

"Lake Michigan took on the appearance of a boiling cauldron as air of minus-20 degrees and colder made contact with water sitting just above the freezing level", Skilling said in his report. At least three states - Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin - declared an emergency on Wednesday and Thursday.

Hawaii native Charles Henry, 54, was staying at a shelter in St. Paul, Minnesota, and said he was grateful to have a place to stay out of the cold.

"It only shows up marginally in the economic data", said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, who ended up working from home because her offices in Chicago were shut because of weather.

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Multiple warming shelters were opened Monday by agencies and nonprofit groups across the Midwest and Northeast to get the homeless population off the streets.

Amy Patterson, a vice president at the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee, said there would still be time for fans to fly to Atlanta for the game, with the National Weather Service forecasting a high of a balmy 58F (14C) on Sunday.

"You won't see them until it starts warming up and the trucks start rolling over the pavement again", said DiLoreto who is based in Portland, Oregon. So far Wednesday, more than 2,000 flights into, out of and within the USA have been canceled, according to FlightAware.

"I'm here until they let me leave", Robinson said.

Remnants of a weekend snowstorm continued to plague portions of the northeast United States - with strong winds and blowing snow reducing visibility on the roads.

The national weather forecaster expects some light snow showers along the central Appalachian mountain range and the Mid-Atlantic.

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