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Withstanding This Week's Polar Vortex, The Coldest Temperatures In At Least 20 Years

People are bundled up against the cold in downtown Chicago, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
People are bundled up against the cold in downtown Chicago, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

With Meghna Chakrabarti

A polar vortex blasts the Midwest with the coldest weather seen in a generation. What’s causing it, how frequent is the phenomenon and how do you cope with the record breaking freeze?


Amy Butler, research scientist at the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. She works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where she researches climate variability. (@DrAHButler)

Tom Skilling, chief meteorologist at WGN-TV in Chicago, where he’s been forecasting the weather for 40 years. (@Skilling)

Rick Garnett, professor at Notre Dame Law School. (@RickGarnett)

From The Reading List

The Weather Channel: "Polar Vortex Triggering Coldest Arctic Outbreak in at Least Two Decades This Week in Parts of the Midwest" — "Extreme arctic cold is now plunging into the Midwest, creating dangerously cold wind chills and likely dropping temperatures in some cities to their lowest levels in more than two decades.

"The central and eastern United States have been in the grips of a much colder weather pattern in the second half of January, and conditions this week will be the worst yet.

"One instigator for this outbreak of cold air is a displacement of a lobe of the polar vortex to a position over the Great Lakes, according to a blog entry from Jeff Masters and Bob Henson."

Associated Press: "Record-breaking cold coming to the Midwest" — "Extreme cold and record-breaking temperatures are crawling into parts of the Midwest after a powerful snowstorm pounded the region, and forecasters warn that the frigid weather could be life-threatening.

"Minneapolis Public Schools officials have canceled classes through Wednesday, when the region is expected to experience frigidly low temperatures not seen in a quarter century. Hundreds of Michigan schools were closed Tuesday, including in Detroit, while Chicago Public Schools canceled Wednesday classes because of the anticipated cold snap.

"'You’re talking about frostbite and hypothermia issues very quickly, like in a matter of minutes, maybe seconds,' said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center.

"Subzero temperatures will begin Tuesday, but Wednesday is expected to be the worst. Wind chills in northern Illinois could fall to negative 55 degrees (negative 48 degrees Celsius), which the National Weather Service called 'possibly life threatening.' Minnesota temperatures could hit minus 30 degrees (negative 34 degrees Celsius) with a wind chill of negative 60 (negative 51 degrees Celsius)."

NBC News: "Mittens? You'll need more: Parts of Midwest could hit minus-60 wind chills" — "Heavy snowfall grounded flights and shuttered schools Monday in the Midwest, with worse on the way — Tuesday and Wednesday could be among Chicago's coldest days ever, with low temperatures forecast to be minus-18 and minus-21, respectively.

"Chicago schools will be closed Wednesday, the school system said, while a decision on Tuesday's classes was still being considered Monday night. More than 1,400 flights were canceled Monday into and out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports. More than 400 arrivals and departures on Tuesday were pre-emptively canceled.

"It takes more than an extra pair of mittens and a hat to stay safe in those conditions.

"'Having any skin exposed is not acceptable,' said Tim Morris Jr., the fire prevention coordinator in Rockford, Illinois."

Gretchen Voss produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on January 30, 2019.



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