Millions of people across the US yesterday made last minute preparations for an unusually bitter Arctic blast that could send temperatures plummeting to their coldest in 20 years.
The northeastern US and parts of Canada have endured heavy snow and deadly sub-zero conditions since the start of the year, but the deep freeze is now moving through the Midwestern US and threatening usually balmy areas further south like Tennessee and Alabama.
The wind chill from the rare “polar vortex” could make it feel as cold as minus-51?C in places, weather forecasters say, prompting authorities in several towns and cities to issue warnings that people should stay indoors and stock up on food.
Exposed skin could suffer frostbite in as little as five minutes in such conditions, experts have warned.
The US National Weather Service described the weather as “life-threatening.”
“The coldest temperatures in almost two decades will spread into the northern and central US today behind an Arctic cold front,” it said.
“Combined with gusty winds, these temperatures will result in life-threatening wind-chill values as low as 60? Fahrenheit [minus-51?C] below zero. Also, heavy snow will develop from the eastern Plains to the Great Lakes today, with up to a foot of accumulation possible,” it said.
Authorities warned people that they could face issues like cars that will not start and flooded roads that quickly ice over caused by water pipes that freeze and burst.
Thousands of flights out of major airports like Chicago O’Hare International and New York’s John F. Kennedy were delayed or canceled on Sunday due to weather-related problems.
At O’Hare, one of the country’s busiest airports, officials said that more than 1,300 flights were canceled.
The states of Minnesota and North Dakota were expected to experience the worst weather.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced that schools would be closed yesterday “to protect all our children from the dangerously cold temperatures.”
In Wisconsin, Sunday’s National Football League playoff showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers at the open-air Lambeau Field was one of the coldest NFL games in history.
The Packers helped fans battle the big freeze by handing out free coffee, hot chocolate and hand warmers. Supporters were allowed to bring blankets and sleeping bags.
Freezing rain is forecast to hit the south and east, affecting the New England region, New York and Washington, with the extreme weather expected to continue into the early part of the week in many places.
“The heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures have combined to create hazardous conditions in many areas of the state,” Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said. “Residents should heed advisories and stay off the roads if at all possible.”
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn described the storm as “one for the record books, and we want to make sure everyone stays safe and warm until it passes.”
The US Weather Channel said the country should be prepared for an imminent “blast of brutally cold air” that would buffet some states until today.