The Midwest is getting hit by a powerful polar vortex and people are feeling a blistering wind chill around Chicago. Schools are closed, hundreds of flights have been delayed or canceled and parts of the region could be colder than the Arctic Circle.
The polar vortex is bringing some of the coldest weather in a generation. The upper Midwest will face temperatures 40 degrees below normal with wind chills in the negative double digits.
So far, the weather is blamed for at least six deaths in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
USPS to suspend service in some states
The United States Postal Service said Tuesday it will not deliver mail to areas some parts of the country on Wednesday due to the extreme cold brought on by the polar vortex.
Service will be suspended Wednesday in parts of Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois (including parts of Chicago), Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, western Pennsylvania, the Dakotas and Nebraska, the USPS said.
In addition to deliveries, pickups from businesses, residences and collection boxes are also suspended.
Thousands without power in Minnesota
Minnesota's Xcel Energy says equipment failures on power poles is leading to outages throughout the Twin Cities Tuesday evening, which started at about 5:40 p.m., CBS Minnesota reports.
As of 9 p.m., more than 7,300 people are still without power in the Twin Cities metro area.
The Anzalone family said their Bloomington neighborhood went dark around dinner time. Like many in the metro, they were bundled up and reading by candlelight, hoping they didn't have to leave their house. They say the latest update for power returning is 3 a.m. Wednesday.
"If the power doesn't come back on, we're talking to family and some friends in the area, see where we may spend the night, because it is getting cold, fast," said Erin Anzalone.
Xcel officials say they sent extra crews because of the dangerous cold. They expect most of the outages will be repaired by late Tuesday night.
The National Weather Service Twin Cities reports the area is currently experiencing the coldest temperatures since 1996. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the wind chill means the temperature could feel like -50.
Winter Storm Fast Facts
- At least 6 weather-related deaths across U.S.
- 2 were killed in a car crash in Indiana; 3 other deaths in Iowa were attributed to the storm
- There were 2,457 flights delayed Tuesday and 1,360 canceled
- 1,134 flight cancellations planned for Wednesday (472 at Chicago's O'Hare; 332 at Midway)
- Chicago Gov. J. B. Pritzker, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers have declared states of emergency
- Chicago's forecast high Wednesday of 14 below zero would set a record, CBS Chicago reports
NASA releases image of the polar vortex
NASA has shared an image of the polar vortex that combines NASA Earth science and other satellite measurements of temperature, moisture, wind speeds and directions, and other conditions.
NASA wrote on its website: A large area of low pressure and extremely cold air usually swirls over the Arctic, with strong counter-clockwise winds that trap the cold around the Pole. But disturbances in the jet stream and the intrusion of warmer mid-latitude air masses can disturb this polar vortex and make it unstable, sending Arctic air south into middle latitudes. That has been the case in late January 2019.
Forecasters are predicting that air temperatures in parts of the continental United States will drop to their lowest levels since at least 1994, with the potential to break all-time record lows for Jan. 30 and 31.
Schools in Jefferson County (Kentucky) to close
Jefferson County public and Catholic schools will be closed Wednesday, Jan. 30 because of the impending cold wind chills, CBS affiliate WLKY-TV reports.
The school district tweeted the information Tuesday night.
Latest forecast from CBS Chicago meteorologist Megan Glaros
Pittsburgh businesses, government buildings announce closures
With temperatures potentially getting as cold as minus 30 on Wednesday, CBS Pittsburgh reports area businesses and government services are closing due to the expected severe cold weather.
Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Kim Clark ordered a closure for the courts on Wednesday. The District Attorney's Office will also be closed. Anyone who was scheduled to appear will be notified.
Also the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium will be closed through Friday, according to CBS Pittsburgh, but is scheduled to re-open Saturday morning.
Allegheny County also announced that Boyce Park Ski Slopes and the North Park and South Park ice rinks will be closed Wednesday.
Chicago is expected to be colder than Mount Everest base camp
Chicago is set to experience one of its coldest days on record, with the high temperature expected to be 12 degrees below zero on Wednesday, CBS Chicago reports. That would make it colder than some of the most frigid places on Earth.
While Chicago freezes, the South Pole is expected to reach a high temperature of 4 below zero Wednesday, CBS Chicago reported. And the northernmost point in the United States -- Barrow, Alaska -- will be 7 below zero.
That's right, a city that is located above the Arctic Circle is expected to be warmer than Chicago.
Experts warn about sub-zero temperatures
With frigid temperatures on the horizon, experts are warning about hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia starts setting in when a person's body temperature drops from the normal 98.6 degrees F to about 95 degrees. The body begins to shut down. Heart and breathing rates slow down, accompanied by confusion and sleepiness.
"Hypothermia is a medical emergency when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. As your body temperature drops, your heart, brain, and internal organs cannot function. Without aggressive resuscitation and rapid rewarming, you will ultimately not survive," explains Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital.
"Without rapid rewarming, your heart rate and breathing slows even further, leading to poor circulation to the brain, heart and extremities, which is fatal," Glatter said.
How long it takes for someone to freeze to death depends on conditions and the type of exposure, but death can occur in under an hour if conditions are dangerous enough. It can happen even more quickly in a situation such as falling through ice into freezing water.
The elderly and infants are especially vulnerable to hypothermia, according to CBS News' Dr. Tara Narula.
What is the polar vortex?
The frigid air will come from a brief visit by the polar vortex -- which is a real meteorological phenomenon, not just a sensational headline. It's a whirling mass of cold air circulating in the mid- to upper-levels of the atmosphere, present every winter.
It usually stays closer to the poles but sometimes breaks apart, sending chunks of Arctic air southward into the U.S. during winter.
This week's particularly cold outbreak may be explained by the relative lack of cold air so far this winter in the eastern U.S. Instead of the cold air bleeding south a little at a time, it's coming all at once.
Is the polar vortex connected to climate change?
A counterintuitive theory about the polar vortex is gaining ground among some in the climate science community: Regional cold air outbreaks may be getting an "assist" from global warming. While it may not seem to make sense at first glance, scientifically it's consistent with the extremes expected from climate change.
Overall, Earth is warming due to climate change, but areas near the North Pole are warming more than 2 times faster than the rest of the globe. This "Arctic Amplification" is especially pronounced in winter.
When warm air invades the Arctic Circle, it weakens the polar vortex, displacing cold air masses southward into Europe, Asia and the United States. You might think of it as a once tight-knit circulation unraveling, slinging pieces of cold air outward.
Chicago residents seek shelter in underground walkway system
Some Chicago residents are seeking refuge from the blistering cold in the city's underground walkway system. CBS Chicago spoke with two men finding warmth there before sub-zero temperatures hit the city.
Steven Garron sells StreetWise magazines to pay his rent in Dolton, but Marine veteran Joshua Stockwell doesn't have a place to live, so he sleeps on the CTA trains at night. "I hope and pray the K9 unit don't kick me off the train," he said.
With temperatures that could hit 23 below zero overnight, Stockwell knows it might not be warm enough even on the train. Stockwell said shelters won't accept him or his service dog, who helps him with seizures and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"I don't know what else to do," Stockwell said.
Garron said he lives in southwest suburban Dolton, and takes two buses downtown so he can sell magazines on the Pedway to be able to pay rent.
"I just got to do it, because I need my rent money. I'd rather have the rent money than to be outside, homeless," he said. But he won't be taking that bus trip on Wednesday, when temperatures might not get above 14 below zero.