Saturday, 23 February, 2019

Polar Vortex: What You Need to Know

The National Weather Service’s chill map as of 11 a.m. on Jan. 29 The National Weather Service’s chill map as of 11 a.m. on Jan. 29
Derrick Tucker | 01 February, 2019, 05:07

The snow squall is expected to have winds up to 50 miles per hour and zero visibility, according to the weather service.

A rapid thaw seemed imminent. "And because it's so cold, there won't be much of a warm-up Wednesday". In western NY, a storm that dumped up to 20 inches of snow (51 centimeters) gave way to subzero temperatures and face-stinging wind chills. The arctic conditions caused problems from Buffalo to Brooklyn, where about 200 firefighters battling an early morning blaze in a commercial building took turns getting warm on buses.

It was colder than Alaska's North Slope in many places, including Norris Camp, Minn., where temperatures dropped to minus-48 degrees Wednesday morning - with the windchill pegged at minus-65 - making the town the coldest reporting location in the United States and one of the coldest spots on Earth. At least three states - Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin - declared an emergency on Wednesday and Thursday. And the temperature in Fargo, North Dakota, was minus-31.

The blast of polar air also strained infrastructure with some of the lowest temperatures in a generation.

City crews braved sub-zero weather to fix a number of frozen water main breaks that plagued Motor City neighborhoods.

More than 1,800 flights were canceled at Chicago´s two major airports, while rail operator Amtrak scrapped train services from its hub in the city. Wind-chills in parts of northern Minnesota and North Dakota reached negative 60 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 51 Celsius) and even lower. Milwaukee's low was minus 25 degrees (minus 31 Celsius). The city's coldest day on record occurred on January 18, 1994, when the high only reached -11°.

In western NY, a storm that dumped up to 20 inches of snow (51 centimetres) was over by Thursday but gave way to subzero temperatures and unsafe wind chills. They added that the city offered "shelter for homeless residents, warming centers and well-being checks". The hardiest commuters ventured out only after covering almost every square inch of flesh to protect against the extreme chill, which froze ice crystals on eyelashes and eyebrows in minutes.

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The US Postal Service - known for its commitment to bringing the mail whatever the weather - suspended deliveries in parts of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, the Dakotas and Nebraska.

A blast of Arctic air from the polar vortex brought unsafe, bone-chilling cold to a wide swath of the United States on Tuesday, stretching from the Dakotas through ME, with snow expected as far south as Alabama and Georgia. The split allowed the air to spill much farther south than usual.

Animals also had a tough time in the cold weather, including one horse who got itself wedged between two branches of a tree trunk in the subzero temperature.

Jim Hayes, a National Weather Service meteorologist, warned that frostbite was possible within 10 minutes in the intense cold. The warning followed a fire at a utility's suburban Detroit facility that affected natural gas supplies. By Thursday, Consumers Energy said it was "cautiously optimistic" its requests to curb natural gas use were "having a positive effect".

Classes were cancelled for Wednesday and yesterday for students across the Midwest, including Chicago, home of the nation's third-largest school system, and police warned of the risk of accidents on icy highways. A siren got stuck, contributing to the bedlam.

"Frostquakes" - loud booms caused by the sudden freezing and expansion of groundwater - startled Chicagoans, who (perhaps understandably) mistook them for gunfire.

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