Brutally cold and extremely dangerous below-zero wind chills are paralyzing major Midwest cities.
Chicago is forecast to reach an actual temperature of minus 26 degrees Wednesday night — just one degree away from the city’s all-time coldest temperature, which was set in 1994.
And soon, freezing temperatures will take over the Northeast.
Midwest comes to a standstill
The coldest wind chill (what it feels like outside) in the U.S. Wednesday morning was near Ponsford, Minnesota, which clocked in at a bone-chilling minus 66 degrees.
The temperature in Minneapolis plunged to minus 28 — the lowest since 1996. The city recorded a wind chill of minus 55.
Chicago reached a temperature of minus 23 — the lowest there since 1994. Chicago saw a minus 52 degree wind chill.
As the cold takes over and residents are urged to stay inside to avoid dangers including frostbite, the U.S. Postal Service has suspended delivery for Minnesota, western Wisconsin, western Illinois and Iowa.
Over 1,700 flights have been canceled at Chicago’s airports for the day, and Amtrak suspended all Wednesday trains to and from Chicago.
Classes are even canceled at colleges, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern, University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.
At least eight people, including two in the Detroit area, have died in connection to the dangerously cold weather, according to The Associated Press.
In Libertyvile, Illinois, a man was killed by a snowplow, local police said.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a 55-year-old man was „cold and frozen” when he was found dead in a garage near a snow shovel Tuesday, a medical examiner’s office official said.
Besides the eight people, a zebra suffered a cold weather-related death on a private farm in Indiana, according to Carroll County Sheriff Tobe Leazenby.
Making this cold blast worse is that it’s lasting so long. Much of the Midwest won’t see temperatures above zero for well over 24 hours.
By mid-day Wednesday, wind chills had only warmed up to minus 39 in Minneapolis, minus 44 in Chicago and minus 29 in Detroit.
Thursday morning wind chills are forecast to clock in at minus 44 in Minneapolis, minus 43 degrees in Chicago and minus 35 in Detroit.
The extreme freeze comes as whiteout conditions targeted the Dakotas to western New York state.
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Power outages hit around 45,000 homes across Sydney’s upmarket eastern suburbs on Thursday as a forecast 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) heatwave hit the harbourside city, with media reports of people being trapped in lifts and one hospital losing power.
As Australia swelters in a protracted heatwave which has lasted weeks, distribution company Ausgrid said emergency crews were investigating the cause of the widespread outage, which is rare in the eastern beachside suburbs.
Power was lost to homes and businesses in suburbs from beachfront Bondi to the well-heeled areas of Double Bay and Woollahra. Police warned drivers to take care with dozens of traffic lights blacked out.
Ausgrid, which provides power to more than over 1.7 million customers down the east coast, later said power had been restored to 10,000 homes around Double Bay.
Australia’s bureau of meteorology on Thursday warned hot dry weather could persist to the end of April, with a 70 percent chance the majority of the country will experience above average temperatures.
A record-breaking heat-wave across southeastern Australia earlier this month triggered outages in some areas and sent power prices soaring, while bush fires have destroyed homes in the southern island state of Tasmania.
CHICAGO (AP) — The painfully cold weather system that put much of the Midwest into a historic deep freeze is expected to ease Thursday, though temperatures could still tumble to record lows in some places before the region begins to thaw out.
Disruptions caused by the cold will persist, too, including power outages and canceled flights and trains.
Before the worst of the cold begins to lift, the National Weather Service says Chicago could hit lows early Thursday that break the city’s record of minus 27 set on Jan. 20, 1985.
Temperatures should bounce back into the single digits later Thursday and into the comparative balmy 20s by Friday. More people are expected to return to work in Chicago, which resembled a ghost town Wednesday after most offices told employees to stay home.
Crews in Chicago have begun setting train tracks on fire in order to keep public transit moving amid historically frigid temperatures throughout the Windy City.
The Chicago Tribune explains that wintry weather can cause snow and ice to clog the switches that control which rails Metra trains run on, thus grinding travel to a halt.
To prevent this from happening, gas-fed heaters that run adjacent to the rails are used to generate warmth in areas where switches are supposed to make contact by creating small, controlled fires that melt icy buildup.
Although the system is used in normal winter weather, not just in the extreme cold, videos of the eye-catching spectacle have been shared widely on social media by multiple local news outlets in the Midwest lamenting Wednesday’s cold weather.
„IT’S REEAAALLY COLD! It’s so cold, train tracks are being set on fire to prevent freezing in Chicago,” wrote Wisconsin’s WISN 12 News on Facebook, alongside areal footage of the track fires, which has since been viewed over 600,000 times.
The U.S. Midwest braced for a record-breaking freeze this week as it was hit by „one of the coldest arctic air mass intrusions in recent memory,” according to the National Weather Service.
Wind chills plunged parts of Illinois and Indiana into the negative 50s by Wednesday morning and brought parts of Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa as low as 60 degrees below zero. A wind chill of just minus 25 can freeze skin within 15 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a stark warning on Tuesday ahead of the historic cold snap.
„These are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately,” Emanuel said. “They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures.”
At least five people have died so far as a result of the cold weather and icy conditions.
No, this Chicago fire is not one to be nervous about ― but it does look really cool.
Social media has been entranced and a little concerned over viral images and videos of Chicago train tracks on fire as the city deals with record low temperatures this week.
But the videos aren’t as wild as they look. In fact, they’re completely intentional. Crews for Metra, the Chicago-area commuter rail, are fighting ice with fire to protect train tracks during the polar vortex deep-freeze.
During extreme winter weather, crews use the flames to prevent or repair steel tracks that contract when exposed to quick drops in temperatures. The cold can lead to cracks forming and rails separating, creating a risk of derailments. Heat causes the rails to expand again.
Snow and ice can also clog track switches, which control the rails Metra trains run on. If a switch is clogged, trains have to come to a halt until it’s cleared, causing major delays.
The tracks themselves are not on fire. Instead, Metra uses a gas-fed system to release flames that run next to the rail, generating heat in areas where switches would make contact. Metra spokesman Michael Gillis told the Chicago Tribunethat crews use the fire system in normal winter weather too, but it stays on when temperatures dip below 32 degrees.
The polar vortex has hit the Midwest with double-digit subzero temperatures. In Chicago, mail carriers are staying home and about 1,700 flights have been canceled as the city faces wind chill factors as rough as 55 below zero. On Wednesday, Metra reported major delays for some trains and suspended one of its lines for two days.
“Will some new technology be developed to better clear the ice dropped by railcars and locomotives? The answers remain unclear,” a Metra press release said. “But one thing is certain. Metra will continue to pit fire against ice to keep trains rolling.”
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
Extreme cold weather is hitting parts of the U.S. this week. The Midwest, from the Dakotas to Western New York, is experiencing some of the coldest temperatures to hit the region in more than two decades, according to The Weather Channel. On Wednesday morning, it was -23 degrees Farenheit in Chicago, and the National Weather Service recorded -30 in Wisconsin. The negative temps extend as far south as Kentucky, and according to The Weather Channel, things won’t get milder until the weekend.
Here’s how to stay safe until things warm up:
Know how long it takes to develop frost bite.
According to the National Weather Service, frost bite can set in with a wind chill of -20 degrees in just 30 minutes. The colder it is outside, the faster the condition — which causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose — will set in. For example, winds blowing at 50 miles per hour when it’s -50 degrees outside can cause frost bite in 2 minutes.
If you’re concerned that you or someone you know may have developed frost bite, seek medical help immediately.
These temperatures can also cause hypothermia, when a person’s internal temperature drops below 95 degrees. Seek help immediately if you or someone you know may have developed hypothermia.
Although it may seem counterproductive, the National Weather Service recommends your inner layers of clothing be loose and light-weight because the air trapped between the layers will insulate you.
The outer layer should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded. Wear a hat and cover your mouth to protect your lungs. Mittens, especially if they’re tight at the wrist, are preferable to gloves.
Regardless of what you’re wearing, stay dry and out of the wind as much as possible.
Be prepared when traveling.
If you have to take a car to and from work or another location amid the arctic temperatures, keep the necessities to stay warm in your vehicle. The National Weather Service recommends warm clothes, boots, blankets, flashlight with extra batteries and snacks. A charged cell phone is also good to have. To keep it working properly — cell phones die more quickly in the extreme cold — store it close to you so your body heat keeps it warm.
NBC News reports that it’s important to drink water or other hydrating beverages when it’s extremely cold outside because you’re more likely to forget to since you don’t feel hot. Herbal tea is a good alternative to water, in these circumstances.
NBC adds to avoid drinking alcohol during a polar vortex because it can give you a false sense of warmth by increasing blood flow to your extremities. In reality, though, according to the outlet, it lowers your body temperature, which can potentially contribute to hypothermia.
RELATED VIDEO: Arctic Vortex causing Lake Michigan to steam near Navy Pier!
Look out for ice.
Plunging temperatures mean more ice, so be cautious when walking outside or driving. According to AccuWeather, black ice, the most dangerous type because it blends in with its surroundings, forms most often when air is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
So if you’re driving, keep your eyes peeled for smooth, glossy sheets, especially if they stand out from the rest of road, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you do hit black ice, do not hit the breaks and keep the steering wheel straight. If you feel the car turning, make a slight adjustment to keep driving in the same direction. If you try to turn aggressively in the opposite direction, you risk skidding or spinning out.
The extreme cold weather in much of the U.S. this week means many people are staying home – and it’s having an impact on businesses.
Schools, university campuses, museums, zoos and churches closed across the Midwest. Big retailers like Home Depot, Grubhub, Walmart, and Kmart are expected to stay open, but are monitoring the weather conditions. And traffic at restaurants in the Chicago area is expected to decline by 5% this week. There were over 3,000 flight cancellations in the U.S. on Wednesday, including more than 59% of flights out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.
“Short term it’s going to have a very significant negative impact,” says Paul Walsh, IBM’s global director of consumer weather strategy. With a forecast of minus 23 degrees in Chicago, “the entire Midwest is shut down. So from a commerce, business perspective, everything is stopped and it’s going to, of course, spread across the rest of the country,” he says.
The deep freeze isn’t expected to persist – Chicago is expected to see 40 degrees and above next week. Walsh says U.S. retail is poised to have a strong first quarter.
The last time businesses faced a similar situation was in 2014 when another polar vortex gripped much of the country. It cost the U.S. economy $5 billion. Walsh does not expect the impact of this one to be as dramatic.
“The negative effects will be relatively short-lived. There will probably be some infrastructure impacts, a lot of broken pipes,” Walsh says. “But when there are hurricanes [and other severe weather conditions], there’s always a rebound that happens in weeks and months later when the money comes back in. That’s the silver lining.”
No doubt restaurants that have stayed open are delivering more food this week, while people search for beach vacations online. Once the first glimmer of spring comes into view, “it gets people in the mood to go out and start buying,” says Walsh. “That usually happens right around the Easter break.”
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