Polar Vortex Freezes American Midwest (Video)

Polar vortex to bring prolonged, life-threatening cold outbreak to midwestern US this week

By Kristina Pydynowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist

The coldest weather in years will put millions of people and animals throughout the midwestern United States at risk for hypothermia and frostbite to occur in minutes during the final days of January.

The deep freeze continued across the Upper Midwest on Sunday with temperatures plummeting well below zero in the morning. The low of 45 below zero F in International Falls, Minnesota, shattered the day’s record of 36 below zero F from 1966.

As harsh as Sunday morning was, the worst is yet to come as the polar vortex gets displaced from the Arctic Circle and dives into the Midwest in the wake of the disruptive snowstorm early this week.

In addition to the risks of frostbite and hypothermia, residents will be faced with high heating costs and the potential for frozen and bursting water pipes, dead car batteries and school closures.

RealFeels This Week

The cold can be life-threatening for any person or animal without a proper way to stay warm.

The Arctic blast will plunge across the Midwest early this week with the most extreme conditions anticipated at midweek.

“Some locations in the Midwest will be below zero continuously for 48-72 hours,” according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

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The harshest conditions are anticipated from North Dakota to northern Illinois, where there can be a prolonged stretch of dangerously low AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures that can cause frostbite in mere minutes.

On Tuesday night, widespread lows under 30 below zero will grip much of North Dakota, eastern South Dakota and Minnesota. Temperatures in Chicago can drop to 25 below zero for the first time since the mid-1980s.

Little recovery in temperatures is expected on Wednesday with highs stopping well short of rising above 10 below zero from Fargo, North Dakota, to Minneapolis and Chicago. Highs in the single digits will have those from Kansas City, Missouri, to St. Louis to Cincinnati, Ohio, and Pittsburgh shivering.

Cold outbreak Jan 27

Wednesday night can be just as cold, if not colder than, Tuesday night in many areas.

As biting winds usher in the Arctic blast, AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures can drop under 40 below zero from Fargo to Minneapolis and Chicago on Tuesday night and hold there into at least Wednesday night.

“I cannot stress how dangerously cold it will be,” Doll stated. “An entire generation has gone by without experiencing this type of cold in the Chicago area.”

The cold can shatter records both during the day and at night as temperatures are held 20 to 40 degrees below normal.

The last sub-zero high in Chicago was on January 6 of 2014, when the temperature only reached -2F.

January 13 to January 15 of 2009 was the last period of three consecutive days with subzero high temperatures in Minneapolis.


In preparation for the cold, percautions were being taken in several states.

Wisconsin governor, Tony Evers, declared a state of emergency on Monday morning through Friday for the dangerous cold and blowing and drifting snow.

Download the free AccuWeather app to see just how cold it will get in your area.

Residents will once again have to take the proper precautions and cover all exposed skin to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. The homeless should be encouraged to stay in shelters.

“However, homeless shelters will likely fill up quickly,” added Doll.

Be sure that livestock have sufficient means to stay warm and limit time that pets venture outside.

Blast Jan 27

Residents should ensure that they have a proper amount of propane, wood pellets and/or firewood to last during this cold outbreak. A life-threatening situation can arise in homes that lose heat.

Motorists should travel with a winter survival kit in the event their vehicle breaks down and are then forced to wait for help.

Amid the cold, a prolonged lake-effect snow and squall event can create other travel hazards downwind of the Great Lakes. More ice jams can form along area rivers, raising the risk of flooding in nearby communities.

While the harshest conditions are anticipated across the Midwest, the Arctic blast will spread to the Northeast to close out January.

As is the case in the Midwest, RealFeel® Temperatures Wednesday through Thursday will be dangerously low due to the wind.

Winter storms create a unique set of challenges in the Northeast compared to other areas of the country. Great minds often come together to face the challenge. AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Dombek joins WABC New York’s Chief Meteorologist, Lee Goldberg to talk about their years of collaboration taking on the big storms.


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