“Polar Vortex” Set to Strike the U.S. as Snowstorm Death Toll Rises

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 4 2014 12:23 PM

“Polar Vortex” Set to Strike the U.S. as Snowstorm Death Toll Rises

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Children sled down a hill in Central Park

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The cold weather that is being blamed for at least 16 deaths is sticking around. And about to get way worse this weekend as parts of the Midwest are likely to be hit with a deep freeze the likes of which has not been seen in decades. What one meteorologist calls a “polar vortex”—a pool of cold, dense air—will be making its way down from the North Pole toward the United States, going as far south as the Gulf Coast, reports the Associated Press. The National Weather Service warned that the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest will be struck by “dangerously cold temperatures” by Sunday night.

Some areas could experience wind chill temperatures of as low as 70 degrees below zero. What does that mean? Well, “wind chills colder than 50 below can cause exposed flesh to freeze in only 5 to 10 minutes,” as the weather service warned. Minnesota is expecting such extreme weather that the governor has already closed all of its public schools Monday. The Arctic air will then push eastward by Tuesday and cities from Washington, D.C. to New York could see temperatures drop below zero degrees for the first time in almost 20 years, points out the Washington Post.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue puts it succinctly: “If you’re under 40, you’ve not seen this stuff before.” And football fans could also be in for a frigid treat as Sunday’s playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers could turn out to be one of the coldest NFL games ever played. Fans will have to endure wind chills close to minus 30 by the fourth quarter.

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This latest cold front comes as the eastern half of the country continues to try to recover from Thursday’s storm that killed at least 16 people, according to USA Today. Almost 3,500 flights were canceled Friday across the country and 12,394 were delayed, points out Reuters.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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