Midwestern US braces for coldest weather in years as polar vortex invades in final days of January

By Kristina Pydynowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
January 27, 2019, 12:35:08 PM EST

For the latest information on the Arctic outbreak headed to the Midwest, please visit this news story.

While the midwestern United States has been dealing with bitter cold, an even harsher and more dangerous stretch of cold is expected in the final days of January as the polar vortex plunges south.

"Through late next week, it will be a very cold stretch with high energy draw from the Plains to the East Coast," according to AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok.

Sunday will bring another day of highs being held to the single digits and teens from Fargo, North Dakota, to Chicago and Detroit, but even harsher conditions can put more people and animals at risk for frostbite and hypothermia during the final days of January.

Polar vortex plunge late Jan - early Feb 2019

"The end of January will bring the coldest air of the season for the Midwest and rival the Arctic blast from earlier this week in the Northeast," Pastelok said.

The polar vortex is expected to become displaced from the Arctic Circle and plunge down to near the upper Great Lakes. That will occur in the wake of the winter storm that may lay a swath of disruptive snow from the Midwest to a part of the Northeast early this week.

"Temperatures can be held 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit below normal across most of the Midwest around midweek," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.

Arctic outbreak 1.25 AM

That can equate to one to three days of subzero highs from Fargo, North Dakota, to Minneapolis and Chicago. Highs may reach only the single digits from St. Louis to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

Records for the cold can be challenged both during the day and at night.

“Latest indications are that Chicago could set a record on Wednesday for the day’s lowest high temperature,” according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tom Kines. Temperatures have not been held below zero for an entire day in Chicago since Jan. 6, 2014.

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It is possible that overnight temperatures in Chicago bottom out at or below minus 18. There has been only one other time this century when temperatures have been that low in the city.

Thursday can be the coldest day in the Northeast, Pastelok said.

Temperatures along the I-95 corridor from Philadelphia to New York City to Boston may struggle or fail to reach 20 during the day. Overnight lows can be in the single digits and lower teens.

Static PV

While the core of the cold is expected to grip the Midwest, temperatures can also be held 10 to 20 degrees below normal to end January southward to northern Florida. The leading edge of the cold can be accompanied by snow and a rapid freeze-up in parts of the South.

Download the free AccuWeather app to see just how cold it will get in your area.

From the Midwest to the Northeast, biting winds ushering in the brutal cold to end January will create dangerously low AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures.

RealFeel® Temperatures can plummet under 40 below zero F across the Upper Midwest on Tuesday night and hold there through Wednesday. This includes in Minneapolis and Chicago. In some communities, such as Fargo, those readings can plunge under 50 below zero F.

Frostbite can occur in mere minutes in these extreme conditions.

RF Jan 26

Residents will once again have to take the proper precautions and cover all exposed skin to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. The homeless should be encouraged to stay in shelters.

Be sure that livestock have sufficient means to stay warm and limit time that pets venture outside.

The risk for water pipes to freeze and dead car batteries will be renewed, and parents can anticipate school delays or cancellations due to the brutal cold.

Motorists should travel with a winter survival kit in the event their vehicle breaks down and are then forced to wait for help. Amid the cold, lake-effect snow and squalls can create other travel hazards downwind of the Great Lakes.

Pastelok anticipates the harsh cold to ease somewhat across the eastern half of the U.S. during the first weekend of February.

"However, below-normal conditions can still be anticipated in the Upper Midwest and Northeast," he said. "Any cold for the rest of winter may not be as long and as extreme, especially for the Plains and Midwest."

For the Northeast, Pastelok is concerned that February will bring a couple more frigid stretches similar to what is anticipated next week.

The recent increase in cold outbreaks across the midwestern and eastern U.S. is exactly what Pastelok and the AccuWeather Long-Range Forecasting Team anticipated when they released the winter forecast months ago.

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