The polar vortex is back, and it’s bringing extraordinarily low temperatures to roughly 250 million people across America. And in the Upper Midwest, it’s even worse.
Over the weekend, Madison, Wisconsin meteorologist Chris Reece gave his viewers a preview of what was expected to come as the polar vortex hit the Badger State. In Madison, wind chills would be 64 degrees below zero. And in Austin, Minnesota, the wind chill would be an astonishing 68 degrees below zero.
Seriously, the data coming in for next week…WOW! This blows my mind. We'll see how things adjust in time, but the threat for real deal and TRUE life threatening cold does exist in the days ahead. By the way, temperature is the #1 weather killer. #wiwx pic.twitter.com/qjnNRSF2fZ
— Chris Reece (@ChrisReeceWX) January 25, 2019
Those predictions held up. On Tuesday, the National Weather Service’s Minnesota office tweeted a graph of various temperatures around Minnesota. On Wednesday morning, wind chills in Alexandria, Minnesota are expected to be roughly 63 degrees below zero. University of Minnesota Extension climatologist and meteorologist Mark Seeley said that’s roughly 30 degrees colder than at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station in Antarctica.
From Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist and meteorologist: "At the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station this week Wind Chill values will be in the -20s and -30s F. We will have colder conditions here in Minnesota". #mnwx #ArcticOutbreak pic.twitter.com/vZx2D1EJVt
— NWS Twin Cities (@NWSTwinCities) January 29, 2019
Of course, because Antarctica is on the South Pole, it’s currently experiencing its summer. As of Tuesday afternoon, Accuweather found temperatures in Antarctica ranging from 42 degrees below zero to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the punishing cold in the Upper Midwest is still far more severe than in some of the world’s coldest places. In Siberia, for example, temperatures are ranging from 28 degrees below zero to six degrees Fahrenheit. And in Barrow, Alaska — the Northernmost town in the United States — the coldest it will be this week is 19 degrees below zero.
While President Trump has tried to use the numbing cold in the Midwest as cause to cast doubt on climate change, the government agency tasked with monitoring climate and weather disagrees. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a warming climate makes for wetter conditions in the winter, meaning there’s a much higher chance of severe snowstorms. NOAA also differentiates between climate and weather as climate being the average result of weather patterns over a 30-year period.
Scientists have measured a significant increase in water vapor in the surface atmosphere over land and ocean relative to the 1970s. This global increase is consistent with the long-term warming trend in our planet’s average surface temperature. Warmer air temperatures fuel more evaporation, leading to a wetter atmosphere, which increases rain or snow totals.
The precipitation boost may be especially significant for coastal winter storms like Nor’easters… These storms draw much of their intensity from the extreme contrast between cold air over land and warmer, wetter air from over the ocean. Warmer ocean temperatures may make the air aloft warmer and moister, amplifying the contrast. That wetter air is then brought into the storm system, producing large amounts of snow.
During the polar vortex of January 2014, approximately 21 people died due to the extreme cold. In his tweet showing the map of wind chills across the Midwest, Chris Reece reminded his viewers that temperature was “the #1 weather killer.”
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.