Historic polar vortex hits North America

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

polar vortex chart
A polar vortex is a cyclone of wind swirling near one of the Earth’s poles. This winter, a build up of warm air has forced the polar vortex to drift all the way down to North America.

A polar vortex, which is basically a large pool of super cold air high up in the Earth’s atmosphere, is visiting chaos upon North America. Early this week, one of the most frigid freezes in history crept down from Canada into the US, and many citizens are really starting to feel the arctic bite.

Several areas in the Midwest, from Montana to Alabama, are experiencing freezing temperatures ranging anywhere from 0 degrees to several dozens of degrees below 0. It’s even worse when you factor in the wind chill, which is the temperature we feel from the frosty winds blowing across us.

In some regions, wind chill is hitting negative 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Several states that really have it bad include New York, Chicago, Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin. People living in these areas are being told to stay indoors and away from the icy weather. “It’s just a dangerous cold,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye. In fact, the polar vortex is so deadly, it only takes about five minutes for uncovered skin to freeze completely! Staying in the cold for too long can also cause hypothermia, when body temperature drops into life-threatening lows.

Meanwhile, strong winds mean extremely hazardous driving conditions. “I know the roads look clear, the sun’s out and it all looks nice,” said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard on Monday. “But it’s still minus 40 in wind chill – deadly temperatures. So we want to be very, very careful.” He updated his city’s travel emergency levels to “red,” which makes it illegal to drive unless someone is headed to a shelter. So far, 13 individuals have already died due to weather-related accidents throughout the US.

As if the cold wasn’t tough enough to deal with, the Midwest is experiencing electricity outages. Utility companies reported that tens of thousands of customers were left without any service for the extremely arctic night. The good news is that the polar vortex should be over by Wednesday, when the National Weather Service predicts warming periods.

Featured image courtesy of Christian Bucad on Flickr