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By the numbers: Midwestern US endures worst of polar vortex, all-time record lows broken

By Kristina Pydynowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
February 02, 2019, 12:57:07 PM EST


Records were shattered as the polar vortex unleashed the harshest cold in years on the midwestern United States during the final days of January.

After the polar vortex plunged southward, temperatures plummeted under 20 below zero F from North Dakota to northern Illinois during the morning hours of both Wednesday and Thursday.

The low of 38 below zero recorded at Mt. Carroll, Illinois, is being reviewed by a state climate extremes committee to determine if the Illinois state record low was broken on Thursday morning. The current record is 36 below zero that was set near Congerville on Jan. 5, 1999.

Biting winds made the extreme cold more life-threatening as AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures dropped under 50 below zero. Frostbite can occur in mere minutes on exposed skin in these conditions.

Among the deaths from the snow and cold that struck the Midwest was a man found frozen to death in a garage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to the Associated Press.

The cold also led to widespread school closures, major travel disruptions and even the suspension of mail service.

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"An entire generation has gone without by without experiencing this type of cold in the Chicago area," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

Much to the relief of residents, the deep freeze is being replaced by a surge of milder air this weekend. Temperatures can dramatically swing 40 to 70 degrees higher than the lowest readings this past week.


Cold weather Jan 30

Commuters braves the wind and snow in frigid weather, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)


This week’s episode of Everything Under the Sun covers two topics. First, host Regina Miller talks to Punxsutawney Phil's handler, John Griffiths for a fun look at the history and tradition of Groundhog Day. Then, Regina discusses the Polar Vortex with AccuWeather's long range team. What is it, and what impact will it have on the length of the winter cold? Tune in to find out!

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