The time of great suffering is upon us. The polar vortex is ushering in a deep freeze across the Midwest that’s among the coldest cold air outbreak in recent memory.
Temperatures have started to plunge in the Midwest and they won’t stop dropping until they reach record-low territory on Wednesday. We’re talking reaching the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit cross paths (that’s minus-40 degrees), especially when factoring in the wind chill. We’re talking Minneapolis, Chicago, and other parts of the Midwest being as cold or colder than Antarctica. And unfortunately we’re also talking about adding another absurd, typo-laden tweet to the oeuvre of Trump climate thoughts while everyone else tweets helpful reminders the rest of the planet is still very hot (also, there’s also a burgeoning line of research Arctic warming could be contributing to cold air outbreaks like this).
The icy tendrils of the polar vortex—a blob of frigid air that usually stays locked in the Arctic thanks to the jet stream—have been creeping down from the Arctic and across Canada over the past few days, and now they’ve crossed the border into the U.S. Chicago is expected to top out at 4 degrees Fahrenheit while Minneapolis reached minus-7 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday before the mercury begins a free fall this evening. Wind chills have already reached minus-61 degrees in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
So yeah, it’s already really, really cold out.
Yet what comes next could be, in the all-caps words of the National Weather Service, “HISTORIC COLD.” Lows are expected to bottom out at minus-28 Fahrenheit in Minneapolis, just a few degrees shy of the all-time cold record. In northern Ohio, the agency is forecasting that “Wednesday may be the first time since January 1994 that highs remain below zero in many locations.” The power and breadth of the big freeze is stunning.
“This is a very intense but concentrated area of extremely cold air that will nonetheless put about 100 million people in the single digits or well below zero,” Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at weather.us, told Earther in an email.
Add in powerful winds out of the north and the situation will go from risky cold to deadly cold. Wind chill warnings gird the country from North Dakota to Pennsylvania with the epicenter of chill in Minnesota. There, the National Weather Service is warning that “[d]angerous wind chills of 45 below to 65 below zero are expected for most of the period from Tuesday night through Thursday morning.”
All this explains why colleges and grade schools alike have canceled classes, Illinois’ governor has already issued a disaster proclamation, and Chicago is moving to position warming buses throughout the city for the homeless to access if they can’t reach a shelter. The precautions are vitally important as wind chill can set in within 5 minutes under the conditions being forecast, and if you live in an area with a wind chill warning, heed it.
If there’s one silver lining to the cold blast, it’s that it will be short-lived and followed by oddly warm weather to end the week. The polar vortex-induced cold will retreat into Canada where it belongs, along with maple syrup and moose.