April 20, 2019

Polar vortex puts US Midwest in a deep freeze

31 January 2019, 07:26 | Edward Lowe

The Latest Trump tweet on global warming draws scornMore

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A brutal cold wave moved eastward on Thursday after bringing temperatures in the US Midwest lower than those in Antarctica, grounding flights, closing schools and businesses and raising fears of hypothermia.

Americans were heeding warnings to stay home if possible on Wednesday, when temperatures were expected to be at their coldest.

U.S. media have attributed at least five deaths since the weekend to the freezing conditions and a major snowstorm that preceded the blast of Arctic air now gripping the region.

The Midwest was the hardest-hit region, as temperatures plunged below zero Fahrenheit (minus 18 degrees Celsius).

"In coming days, expect to get even colder".

All-time records are in jeopardy this week as the coldest air in a generation descends from the Arctic into the Lower 48.

More than 1,500 flights into Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were canceled and Amtrak train services did not run.

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The US Postal Service said it would suspend mail delivery on Wednesday in parts or all of several Midwest states including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and MI.

The cause of the sub-zero chill was a swirl of arctic air that broke away from the polar vortex that usually encircles the North Pole.

The National Weather Service warned a wind chill of -45C "can lead to frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes". 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 record cold air mass will continue into the central and northern USA, spreading to the east coast on Tuesday", the NWS said.

Deadly arctic deep freeze and wind chills have engulfed the US Midwest and Northeast Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

That would meet the coldest temperature recorded in Chicago on January 20, 1985.

Two-thirds of the country will be a frozen ice box on Tuesday as the record-breaking temperatures crawl across the Midwest and forecasters warn that the frigid weather could be life-threatening.

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A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that cold weather is responsible for the majority of weather-related fatalities.

Downtown Chicago streets were largely deserted after most offices told employees to stay home.

"These [conditions] are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately", Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

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

Videos this week showed boiling water freezing as it was tossed in the air in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and transit workers in Chicago setting fire to train tracks to keep them from locking up. That's cold enough to cause frostbite in half an hour.

Remnants of a weekend snowstorm continued to plague portions of the northeast United States - with strong winds and blowing snow reducing visibility on roads.

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