Published: Thu, January 31, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

United States polar vortex 2019: U.S. faces historic low temperatures

United States polar vortex 2019: U.S. faces historic low temperatures

Other cities in the Midwest will be even colder.

Hundreds of millions of Americans spent Wednesday seeking relief from some of the coldest weather ever recorded in the continental United States.

"Not only is brutal cold invading the central parts of the country, accumulating snow and freezing roadways all the way into the deep south could make travel unsafe", the NWS said. The wind chill is down to minus-60 degrees in Minnesota, while Chicago is nearly certainly looking at its coldest day in city history.

This outbreak may break some daily records for cold and is likely to be even more brutal than five years ago, especially with added wind chill, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private weather firm Weather Underground.

"It feels like being close to dry ice", Leon Gilbert, 31, told AFP.

Unlike most Chicago residents, Gilbert was required to report to his job at a Starbucks located on a downtown street largely devoid of its usual bustle of people and traffic.

Multiple airlines, including United and Southwest, have canceled flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport.

At least 12 deaths related to extreme cold weather conditions have been reported since Saturday in Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The culprit was a lobe of arctic air broken away from the polar vortex that usually encircles the North Pole. The phenomenon was brought on by a cold weather system moving over North America, which the US National Weather Service says was strengthened by additional arctic air coming from Canada. The extreme cold was "a scary situation", because much of the housing is of poor quality, said Chris Fairbanks, energy assistance program manager for the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota. A storm system has pushed temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius in the Great Lakes region, where the Niagara Falls is located.

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The National Weather Service is warning people in the IL city to cover their mouths and "to protect your lungs from severely cold air, avoid taking deep breaths; minimize talking".

He tweeted: "In the attractive Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded".

States of emergency have been declared from Wisconsin and MI, down to Alabama and Mississippi.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said government offices would remain closed through Thursday and nonessential employees would stay home.

The US National Weather Service said the wind chill at the time was negative 46 degrees Celsius. A wind chill of minus-20 degrees can cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes.

Chicago city officials encouraged 80,000 homeless to ask for help: "3-1-1 offers a range of services to assist some of Chicago's most vulnerable residents", officials said in a statement on Monday.

In Chicago and Minneapolis, buses were used as roving warming shelters for the homeless.

Chicago is also using fire to melt snow on the railway in order to keep the trains running.

Environment Canada reported record-breaking snowfall at the Ottawa airport, where some 50 flights were cancelled, with an accumulation of almost a metre (more than three feet).

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