Polar vortex freezes US Midwest with snow, dangerously cold air

As much as two feet (60 cm) of snow was forecast in Wisconsin, and six inches (15 cm) in Illinois.

Polar vortex freezes US Midwest with snow, dangerously cold air
Image courtesy: Reuters

CHICAGO: A blast of Arctic air from the polar vortex brought dangerous, bone-chilling cold to a wide swath of the United States on Tuesday, stretching from the Dakotas through Maine, with snow expected as far south as Alabama and Georgia.

The Midwest was the hardest-hit region, as temperatures plunged below zero Fahrenheit (minus 18 degrees Celsius). By nightfall the mercury was hovering at 0F in Chicago, 7F (minus 14C) in Detroit and minus 21f (minus 29C) in Minneapolis.

Local television pictures showed the Chicago River and Lake Michigan filled with chunks of ice. The brutal blast known as the polar vortex is a stream of cold air that spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current has been disrupted and is now pushing south into the United States.

Officials warned Chicago residents, accustomed to chilling winters, to expect an unusually deep and dangerous freeze. Even the city`s supply of its signature deep-dish pizza was affected: The Lou Malnati`s chain announced it would stop taking delivery orders at 8 pm on Tuesday.

"This could possibly be history-making," said Ricky Castro, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Romeoville, Illinois. As much as two feet (60 cm) of snow was forecast in Wisconsin, and six inches (15 cm) in Illinois. Snow was expected through Wednesday from the Great Lakes region into New England.

Some Chicago residents found warmth inside the Harold Washington Library Center, which planned to stay open on Wednesday. Gilbert Rothschild, 79, walked through a corridor wearing three sweaters and an undershirt underneath his parka. "The more layers, the more you`re insulated," he said.

Rothschild, the president of a liquor retailer, said he planned on keeping his stores open on Wednesday, figuring customers who were not working might want to pick up something to keep them feeling warm at home.

FROSTBITE WITHIN 10 MINUTES

Many Midwest cities opened warming shelters. Regional governments closed hundreds of schools and airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights, according to the Flightaware flight tracking website. Many had been destined for Atlanta, where the National Football League`s Super Bowl will take place on Sunday.

Amy Patterson, a vice president at the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee, said there would still be time for fans to fly to Atlanta for the game, with the National Weather Service forecasting a high of a balmy 58F (14C) on Sunday.

A low of minus 10F (minus 23C) was forecast in Chicago and elsewhere in northern Illinois on Wednesday. But with the wind chill factored in, temperatures will feel as low as minus 50F (minus 46C) through Thursday, the National Weather Service reported.

Temperatures could reach lows of minus 30F to minus 40F (minus 34C to minus 40C) in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes on Wednesday, the NWS said.