Polar vortex strikes North America

Katie Ramirez
January 31, 2019

Authorities warned that the extreme temperatures were life-threatening, as Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin implemented emergency procedures.

Sub-zero temperatures already blanketing parts of Canada were already sweeping across the US Midwest and towards the East Coast. The midwest remained the most affected region as temperatures dipped to below -18 degrees Celsius. Nonessential employees would stay home.

Postal delivery has been cancelled in ten states and thousands of flights have been cancelled.

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".

Mail deliveries were suspended, schools and business closed, and residents encouraged to stay home in almost a dozen states where temperatures overnight sank into the negative double digits, the worst cold to grip the region in a generation with all-time records still under threat.

Wind-chill temperatures in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes plunged as low as minus 42 F (minus 41 C) in Park Rapids, Minnesota, and to 31 degrees below zero F (minus 35 C) in Fargo, North Dakota, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Chenard said a polar vortex refers to the upper level jet stream that typically circulates around both the North and South Poles, keeping the coldest air there.

MI and Wisconsin declared statewide emergencies in advance of the frigid temperatures. Even colder temperatures were expected on Thursday.

Scores of schools, businesses and government agencies announced closures in multiple states.

Temperatures in Chicago will drop again "quite precipitously" on Wednesday night, Orrison said, potentially breaking the record low of minus 27 (minus 33C) on January 21, 1985, the same day as Ronald Reagan's presidential inauguration.

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There are wind chill warnings across the state and Chicago is expected to set a record for the coldest high temperature not getting above -14°C today.

"They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures", Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a news conference.

"We're bringing the warming shelters to them, so they can stay near all of their stuff and still warm up", said Cristina Villarreal, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Family and Support Services.

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

"The heart of this cold... is hitting us now".

Hundreds of flights, more than half of those scheduled, were canceled on Wednesday out of Chicago O'Hare and Chicago Midway worldwide airports, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.

Flight cancellations piled up throughout the country - more than 2,700 by the evening, stranding travellers such as Brandon Robinson who spent extra days at a Chicago hotel.

An additional 200 flights were cancelled at Toronto's airport.

The cause of the big freeze - the polar vortex - was a large area of low pressure over the North Pole, which was rotating anti-clockwise around the stratosphere.

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