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N America weather: Polar vortex brings record temperatures

Parts of the US are braced for potentially record-breaking low temperatures as a “polar vortex” brings more freezing weather.

A winter storm has already blanketed areas of Canada and the north-eastern US with up to 2ft (60 cm) of snow.

It has been blamed for 16 deaths in recent days and the cancellation of some 3,700 flights.

Schools have been closed in several US states and residents urged to stay indoors for their own safety.

Several planes which braved the weather had difficulties including this one which skidded off the runway in Chicago

In developments across the region:

  • A power failure in Newfoundland, in Canada, late on Sunday left 90,000 homes without electricity. It was a blow to residents already trying to deal with rolling blackouts and the aftermath of a blizzard, CTV News reports
  • The National Weather Service in Kansas City predicted a low of -22C (-8F) for Monday morning, shy of the record low for this date of -25C (-13F) set in 1912. But life-threatening wind chills will make it feel much colder, the Kansas City Star reports
  • South Dakota’s carries a report about farmers trying to keep their cattle warm, as the cold weather can have a devastating impact on herds
  • In the city of Cleveland, 20 neighbourhood recreation centres will open as warming centres on Monday and Tuesday, reports
  • In Indiana, a state of emergency has been declared in several north-west counties, allowing only emergency or law enforcement vehicles on the roads
  • In Thunder Bay, Ontario, where the temperature on Monday morning was -33C (-27F), skate rental business owner Roy Laham told theChronical-Journal newspaper he had only 20 customers on Sunday, down from the usual 200-300

‘Bitterly cold’

Continue reading the main story

World’s coldest temperatures

  • Antarctica: -89.2C (-128.5F) recorded on 21 Jul 1983 at Vostok
  • N America: -63.0C (-81.4F) recorded on 3 Feb 1947 in Yukon Territory, Canada
  • Europe: -58.1C (-72.6F) recorded on 31 Dec 1978 in Ust ‘Schugor, Russia
  • South America: -32.8C (-27F) recorded on 1 June 1907 in Sarmiento, Argentina
  • Africa: -23.9C (-11F) recorded on 11 Feb 1935 in Ifrane, Morocco
  • Australia: -23C (-9.4F) recorded on 29 Jun 1994 in Charlotte Pass, New South Wales

Source: World Meteorological Organization

Temperatures in the north and central US could feel as low as -51C (-60F) with the effect of wind chill, forecasters say.

The plunging temperatures result from the polar vortex, an anti-clockwise pool of cold, dense air.

The vortex has been very strong, with the cold air locked in to Arctic Canada for a long time. Stuck in one place, the air has got colder and colder.

Cold air is dense so once it is released it travels a long way and that is why it is penetrating so far southwards, John Hammond from the BBC Weather Centre says.

“The coldest weather in years will be making its presence known from the Upper Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic region for the beginning of the work week,” the US National Weather Service said in a statement.

BBC Weather’s John Hammond explains what a “polar vortex” is

The states of Ohio, South Dakota and Illinois are among those set to be hit. Tennessee and Kentucky are forecast to see several inches of snow.

The weather service said “an incredibly strong surge of bitterly cold Arctic air” was sweeping across the country until Tuesday.

It is set to continue to the north-east, where residents are still digging out from the week’s deadly snowstorm.

A man using a snowblower in Lawrence, Kansas, on SundayIn this weather, frostbite can set in on uncovered skin in a matter of moments
A plane is seen after it skidded off a runway after landing at John F Kennedy airport on SundayA plane skidded off a taxiway at New York’s JFK airport early on Sunday
Green Bay Packers fans deal with frigid temperatures before an NFL football game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, 5 January 2014Green Bay Packers fans make a play on the freezing temperatures before an NFL game in Green Bay, Wisconsin

It could bring some of the coldest temperatures in two decades.

“The last really big Arctic outbreak was 1994,” Reuters news agency quoted Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, as saying.

“Outbreaks like this don’t occur every day.”

In Canada, the temperature dropped as low as -29C (-20F) in Toronto and -38C (-36F) in Quebec City with wind chill on Thursday – the lowest seen in at least two decades there.

Bill Brant, who lives in the south-east of the Canadian province of Manitoba, emailed the BBC to say that temperatures there are -30C (-22F) and under, with wind chills as low as -51C (-60F).

“We have experienced winters like this from time to time, but this one is quite brutal with much snowfall to match to cold,” he says.

Heavy snow has also affected US states including New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Boston was said to be the worst hit with nearly 18in (45cm) of snow.

Over the weekend, some 3,700 flights were cancelled and the disruption is still being felt by many.

Briton Spencer Bailey has been stuck in Newark International Airport for more than 19 hours.

“United Airlines cancelled our flight to London Heathrow on account of the weather at 01:30. No hotels, no food, no water, kids in tears and sleeping on cold floors, no blankets being handed out, bitterly cold outside. It’s a disgrace,” he told the BBC.

Weather map showing how the polar vortex is bringing freezing weather to the US


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