Frigid temperatures generated by what one meteorologist labeled a “polar vortex" took hold across a wide swath of the Midwest and Northeast on Saturday, as the regions dug out from a deadly snow storm and braced for another blast of dangerous winter weather.
The frigid air is coming from the North Pole and — due to a jet stream — will be intense and mobile, Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for Weather Bell, told The Associated Press. Forecasters said record lows could be eclipsed.
"All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak," Maue said. "If you're under 40, you've not seen this stuff before."
Because of the winds, “It may feel as cold as negative 50 to negative 60 on Sunday night over sections of the north-central states," the National Weather Service said. In those conditions, frostbite can set in on exposed skin within five minutes, forecasters warned.
The High Plains region was already feeling the chill Saturday, with North Dakota at minus-6 in the afternoon and temperatures in the negative 20s expected overnight.
While temperatures in the Northeast were expected to rise by the end of the weekend, New York and New England were frigid Saturday morning. Saturday started off with wind chills in the negative 20s, but temperatures were expected to climb back into the 40s on Sunday and then finish the roller coaster in the low teens on Monday.
“The snow may have stopped, but we are not out of the woods,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday night. The city enacted its Cold Weather Emergency Procedure to protect the homeless through Saturday.
A temperature of minus-9 degrees in Hartford, Conn., early Saturday broke the record for the date and was the lowest recorded in the county since February 2009, according to NBC Connecticut.
“It’s the mother-lode of cold air,” Weather Channel coordinating meteorologist Tom Moore said. “On the heels of what will be the coldest air of the season, will be dangerous, life-threatening winds.”
Snow was expected to begin falling throughout the Midwest on Sunday, and could accumulate up to 10 inches in some areas, the National Weather Service said.
Snow was also expected to start blanketing Chicago late Saturday, according to weather.com. The city will spend two nights enduring overnight lows of minus-15 on Sunday and Monday, and highs will stay in the negative double digits during the daytime hours Monday, according to weather.com. Most of Illinois was under a winter weather warning Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
Pacific Garden Mission in downtown Chicago was sheltering more than 1,000 people on Saturday, said Marquis Lindsey, a counselor at the mission. Lindsey said the space got progressively more packed as the weekend wore on and shelter managers have had to resort to accommodating overnight guests on mats. “We've been getting crowded but we don’t turn anybody down,” he said.
The entire state of Indiana was also under a winter weather warning, and the NWS said 8-12 inches of snow would be on the ground in Indianapolis by Sunday night.
The snow is also expected to reach as far south as Tennessee and Alabama and icy conditions should even be expected in the Deep South Sunday, according to NWS. Atlanta’s high temperature on Tuesday is forecast to be in the mid-20s, while the city’s January average high is usually in the mid-50s, according to Weatherbase.com.
At least 16 people were killed across the United States due to Friday’s snow and ice, and negative temperatures could also bring safety hazards. National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Truett said the wind child levels will be so low that, “a person not properly dressed could die easily in those conditions."
“Anybody living out on the streets needs to be rounded up and put into a shelter,” Moore said. “The repercussions for not could be deadly, and I’m afraid we’re going to see cases like that.”
Minnesota wasn’t taking any chances. Gov. Mark Dayton said all public schools will be closed Monday, for the first time in 17 years.
“The safety of Minnesota’s schoolchildren must be our first priority,” Dayton said in a statement. “I have made this decision to protect all our children from the dangerously cold temperatures now forecasted for next Monday. I encourage Minnesotans of all ages to exercise caution in these extreme weather conditions.”
Temperatures in Embarrass, Minn., had already plummeted to minus-36 degrees on Friday, breaking a record for the lowest temperature in the U.S. outside of Alaska.
Minneapolis will see a high of minus-14 degrees and a low of minus-27 degrees through Monday — but with the wind chill it would feel like the minus-40s.
Temperatures won’t be any better in Chicago, which will come close to a high of minus-11 degrees — a record mark previously reached in December 1983 and January 1994.
While many schoolchildren with a “cold day” might want to strap on ice skates for some winter weather fun, even the ice skating rink will shutter because of the cold. Managers of Brenton Skating Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa, have decided to shut down the rink Sunday and Monday, when temperatures are expected to drop to minus-15 and barely breach zero during highs.
But other athletic activities will go on as planned. Sunday’s NFC wild-card game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers will play out in bone-chilling temperatures in Wisconsin.
Regardless of the forecast, fans scooped up the remaining 40,000 tickets needed to sell out the game this week.
Meanwhile, cities across the mid-Atlantic to the Northeast — walloped by Thursday night’s snowstorm — will see milder temperatures with rain Sunday into Monday. New York City will see highs in the lower 40s. Boston, digging out from as much as two feet of snow, could reach 50 degrees.
While airports in the areas hardest hit by Friday’s big storm still grappled with some residual flight problems, less than 900 into or out of the U.S. had been canceled as of 12 p.m. Saturday, according to FlightAware. More than 2,600 flights into or out of the U.S. were canceled by midday Friday.
New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, which reported 192 cancelled flights due to “zero visibility and high winds” at midday Friday, cut that number to 37 on Saturday morning. The trend carried to other area airports; La Guardia only reported 25 canceled flights on Saturday as compared with Friday’s 271, and Newark slashed its numbers from 285 to 37.
Boston’s Logan International Airport reported 23 cancellations Saturday morning and most other U.S. airports reported cancellations in the teens or single digits.
In Chicago, a Spirit Airlines jet slid off a taxiway at O'Hare International Airport as it was taxiing for takeoff to Las Vegas, state aviation officials told NBC station WMAQ. Passengers were taken off the Airbus A319 and bused back to the terminal to await another jet.
While the next wave of northeast weather might not affect air travel, another frigid plunge is forecast for Tuesday: the Big Apple is expected to see a high of around 10 degrees, while Philadelphia and Boston will be in the teens.
Don't despair, Moore said, there's a silver lining: warming temperatures by the end of next week.
“We’re going to see a moderating trend as a whole,” he added.