Polar vortex to blame for plunging tempsPublished 11:57am Monday, January 6, 2014
CHICAGO — A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a “polar vortex” descended Monday into much of the U.S., pummeling parts of the country with a dangerous cold that could break decades-old records with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.
For a big chunk of the Midwest, the subzero temperatures were moving in behind another winter wallop: more than a foot of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous. Officials closed schools in cities including Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee and warned residents to stay indoors and avoid the frigid cold altogether.
The forecast is extreme: 32 below zero in Fargo, N.D.; minus 21 in Madison, Wis.; and 15 below zero in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills — what it feels like outside when high winds are factored into the temperature — could drop into the minus 50s and 60s.
In Fergus Falls, the temperature reached a low of minus 27 on Monday morning, with 17 mph winds pushing wind chills to nearly minus 60.
“It’s just a dangerous cold,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye in Missouri.
Because of the anticipated bitter weather, Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday ordered all public schools statewide to close Monday, a step no governor had taken since Arne Carlson called off classes Jan. 16, 1997. Carlson had also closed schools twice before, in 1996 and 1994. Many private schools not covered by Dayton’s order will be closed Monday too, along with several ski areas and parks. Some companies have told their employees to stay home, including Maplewood-based 3M Co.
It hasn’t been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the country. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at 15 to 30 below zero.
Between a heater that barely works and the drafty windows that invite the cold air inside his home, Jeffery Davis decided he’d be better off sitting in a doughnut shop for three hours Monday until it was time to go to work in downtown Chicago.
So he threw on two pairs of pants, two t-shirts, “at least three jackets,” two hats, a pair of gloves, the “thickest socks you’d probably ever find” and boots, and trudged to the train stop in his South Side neighborhood that took him to within a few blocks of the library where he works.