Watch CBS News

'Polar Vortex' Bringing Deep Freeze To Wide Swath Of U.S.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Tri-State Area residents were not the only ones suffering through a bitter blast this weekend, and some areas have seen conditions far more severe.

At least 16 deaths were blamed for the snowstorm that barreled through the northeast Thursday night into Friday morning.

The Tri-State Area saw frigid and dangerous cold Friday night into Saturday morning, on the heels of a snowstorm that dumped more than foot of accumulation in some outlying areas.

CBS 2 Weather reported the overnight low Friday night into Saturday morning bottomed out at 8 degrees in Central Park – the lowest for this date since 2011.

But other areas saw lows far colder. The low dropped to minus 13 in Westhampton, minus 3 in Atlantic City, N.J.; minus 1 in Trenton, N.J.; 0 in Islip, and 3 at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

But New England was hit even harder. The town of Boxford, Mass., north of Boston saw 23 inches of snow Thursday night into Friday, and the sea turned angry in the Boston suburbs, blasting homes and streets with waves that crashed ashore and froze.

On Saturday morning, several Boston suburbs saw lows in the minus range. Windsor Locks, Conn., saw a low of minus 9 Saturday morning, breaking a record of minus 7 in 1981. Wind chills were as low as 10 below zero, WBZ-TV, Boston Meteorologist Danielle Niles reported.

CBS 2's Lonnie Quinn reported on "CBS This Morning Saturday" that temperatures rang in Saturday morning at minus 19 degrees in Bangor, Maine; minus 12 in Albany; and 3 in Boston.

The wind chill made it feel like minus 21 in Bangor, minus 17 in Albany, and minus 13 in Boston, Quinn reported.

CBS News explained the extreme cold is the result of a "polar vortex," as one meteorologist called it. The vortex is caused by a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air.

The frigid air, piled up at the North Pole, will be pushed down to the U.S., funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast.

And as the week goes on, parts of the central Midwest could see up to a foot of snow just as the cold sweeps in pulling temperatures to 10 below zero in the St. Louis area, CBS News reported.

Ryan Maue, of Tallahassee, Fla., a meteorologist for Weather Bell, said temperature records will likely be broken during the short yet forceful deep freeze that will begin in many places on Sunday and extend into early next week, CBS News reported. That comes thanks to a perfect combination of the jet stream, cold surface temperatures and the polar vortex.

"All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak," he said. "If you're under 40 (years old), you've not seen this stuff before."

In Chicago, the temperature was expected to drop to lows of minus 15 to minus 20 degrees beginning Sunday night, with subzero temperatures hanging on for 48 hours.

If that happens, it will resemble conditions rarely seen in 30 years. Back in December 1983, the temperature in Chicago did not crack 0 degrees between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26, and in a weather forecast at the time, WBBM-TV, CBS 2 Chicago meteorologist Harry Volkman warned of overnight wind chills of minus 75 and air temperatures of minus 30 in Chicago's western suburbs.

The coldest day ever in Chicago came on Jan. 20, 1985, when the mercury bottomed out at minus 27. That record is expected to stand with the impending cold snap.

But the record lowest high temperature in Chicago for a single day is 11 below zero, and there is a possibility that Chicago could tie or break that mark on Monday, CBS Chicago reported.

And farther north in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday's playoff game could be among one of the coldest NFL games ever played, CBS News reported. Temperatures at Lambeau Field are expected to be a frigid minus 2 degrees when the Packers and San Francisco 49ers kickoff, and by the fourth quarter it'll be a bone-chilling minus 7, with wind chills approaching minus 30, according to the National Weather Service. Officials have warned fans to take extra safety measures to stay warm including dressing in layers and sipping warm drinks.

Even places accustomed to normally mild to warmer winters will see a plunge in temperatures early next week, including Atlanta where the high is expected to hover in the mid-20s on Tuesday.

"This one happens to be really big and it's going to dive deep into the continental U.S. and all that cold air is going to come with it," said Sally Johnson, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.

Back in the Tri-State Area, the high will climb to a comfortable 45 degrees with scattered showers on Sunday. The high for Monday is also expected to hit 45, CBS 2 Meteorologist John Marshall reported.

But that does not mean the area is out of the woods. In fact, conditions on Tuesday will be even more severe than those seen Friday night into Saturday morning.

On Tuesday, the high for New York City is forecast at 12 degrees, and the overnight low Tuesday night into Wednesday bottoming out at a mere 3 degrees.

It's relatively uncommon to have such frigid air blanket so much of the U.S., maybe once a decade or every couple of decades, Maue said. But in the long-run the deep temperature dives are less meaningful for comparison to other storms than daytime highs that are below-zero and long cold spells, he said.

And so far, this winter is proving to be a cold one.

"Right now for the winter we will have had two significant shots of major Arctic air and we're only through the first week of January. And we had a pretty cold December," Maue said.

You May Also Be Interested In These Stories:

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.