A polar vortex tears across the central U.S. dropping record amounts of snow and driving temperatures to lows not seen in nearly 2 decades. Still recovering from recent blizzard conditions, Boston reported snow as deep as 18 inches, and Central Park in New York was buried under six inches. As the dense cold air pushes its way south, warmer low pressure air is pushed in front of it, creating winds up to 30mph and whipping snow along with it. Whiteout conditions have resulted from Michigan to Kentucky. The state of Minnesota has ordered the closing of all schools for the first time in 17 years. This storm is breaking records of every kind, and it’s just getting started.
Experts in all affected states warn that temperatures are going to be shockingly low, even in places where cold weather is the norm. In northern states, expected conditions will be able to cause frost bite on exposed flesh in just five minutes, and experts warn that anyone not dressed for the conditions could easily be killed by them. Temperatures have already fallen to -23c in North Dakota and -30c in Minnesota, with wind chill expected to take them even lower to -57c. Authorities are urging citizens to stay home as much as possible, and treat the storm with extreme caution. Airports have been buried from New York to Denver, resulting in over 1,200 canceled flights and 6,000 delays on Saturday alone. As the polar vortex tears across central U.S. heavy snow conditions are expected to persist through the initial extreme cold.
The sudden onset of the debilitating cold took many people by surprise, with some highway commuters forced to pull over and spend the night in their cars by white out conditions. Traffic accident reports are pouring in from every city, with road salt rendered almost completely ineffective by the consistently sub-zero air temperatures. Even in traditionally warm southern states, cities are preparing for temperatures as low as -10c with significant wind chills. While the polar vortex tears across central U.S. indifferent to those trying to keep it at bay, the nature of the storm is well-known. Turning in a counter-clockwise direction, the storm is composed of a massive core of cold air surrounded by warmer air, all turned by the Coriolis affect. As the warm air around the edges of the core moves across the country, the moisture it carries is turned to snow and ice by the following cyclone of frigid air, resulting in the heavy storms seen so far. Once the snow passes however the storms true danger becomes apparent as freezing temperatures set in and persist until the storm moves past the area.
When dealing with cold weather, common sense is the best rule. Bundle up, avoid being outside for extended periods of time, and keep pets warm. Although the conditions are dangerous, a small amount of preparation and consideration go a long way in staying safe, even as a polar vortex tears across central U.S. cities.
By Daniel O’Brien