The Polar Vortex

Record-breaking cold temperatures affect nearly two-thirds of the U.S.

January 06, 2014

A citizen of Muskegon, Michigan, bundles up to shovel snow on January 6, 2014.

Brrrrr. Just days after snowstorm Hercules barreled through parts of the United States, Americans in the Midwest and the South are experiencing the coldest temperatures they’ve had in years. Meteorologists are calling the frigid, dense air that descended into much of the on U.S. Monday, January 6, a “polar vortex.” With the polar vortex come dangerously low temperatures, and officials are cautioning against spending long periods of time outside. “It’s just a dangerous cold,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye.

Heavy winds and snow barrel down a street in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, January 5.

Heavy winds and snow barrel down a street in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, January 5.

Below Zero

It has not been this cold for nearly two decades in many parts of the United States. The forecast for this week is bitterly cold: -32°F in Fargo, North Dakota; -21°F in Madison, Wisconsin; and -15°F in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as Indianapolis, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois. The wind chills for these affected areas could drop to as low as -60°F. Temperatures in Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, were set to be in the single digits, and Jacksonville, Florida, will see temperatures drop to about 20°F.

More than 40,000 homes and businesses in Indiana, 16,000 in Illinois, and 2,000 in Missouri were without power Monday morning. Officials are encouraging all to dress properly and in layers. Frostbite and hypothermia can occur at -15°F.

Travel Trouble

The polar vortex is also causing complications with travel and transportation. Missouri transportation officials reported it was too cold for ice-melting salt to be effective. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has issued a travel warning making it illegal for anyone to drive unless it is in the case of an emergency. Several Illinois roads have been shut down due to drifting snow.

More than 1,000 flights have been canceled at airports throughout the Midwest. The National Weather Service reported 11 inches of snow at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. School was called off on Monday for the entire state of Minnesota, in addition to school districts in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa.As the wind picks up and the temperature continues to drop, people are preparing the best they can to stay safe. If your hometown is experiencing extra cold weather, check out these tips to help you keep warm:

-Stay inside. Unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid going outside for any reason.

-Watch out for pins and needles. Should you feel a tingling sensation after being outside, get warm and remove any wet clothing.

-Dress in layers. Wear extra-thick socks, gloves, and a hat to trap body heat. Sleeves that are snug at the wrist also help keep you warm.

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