Much of the United States is in the grip of freezing winter weather this week, with temperatures plummeting well below freezing across a broad swath of the country. This blast of arctic air has brought record or near-record lows from the Northern Plains to the East Coast, causing schools and businesses to close, flight cancellations, and increasing risks of frostbite or hypothermia for those spending extended time outdoors.
One of the coldest spots in the nation on Monday was Fargo, North Dakota, where thermometers dipped to 31 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. With the wind chill, it felt like 50 below zero at times – Conditions that pose a risk of frostbite on exposed skin within a brief 5-10 minute timeframe. Areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin also saw temperatures dropping as low as the minus 20s and 30s overnight Sunday into Monday.
Even locations much farther south are feeling the chill this week. Record lows for January 16 were forecast from Baltimore to Pensacola, Florida. The cold extends all the way to the Gulf Coast, where freeze warnings are in effect across the citrus grove area, and farmers work tirelessly through the night to protect their valuable crops. Running irrigation systems, using wind machines, and taking other precautions against crop damage are full-time jobs when the mercury plunges.
The arctic blast began late last week when an area of high pressure and winds from the north ushered in the frigid air. Snow and icy conditions over the weekend led to car crashes, road closures, significant flight cancellations, and other hazards from the Plains states to New England. At least one death – a snowplow driver in Pennsylvania – has been attributed to the early stages of the cold snap.
With temperatures staying well below average through midweek, the peak of the cold is still yet to come across broad areas of the central and eastern U.S. Over 200 million Americans could see temperatures reach zero degrees or colder by Wednesday morning, a rare occurrence this far south. Even the usually mild Southeast will see lows near or below freezing, stressing infrastructure in regions unaccustomed to extreme winter conditions.
The extreme cold brings risks of frostbite, hypothermia, slippery roads and walkways, and potential impacts on infrastructure not hardened to handle very low temperatures. Pipes may freeze and burst in homes or buildings without adequate insulation, electricity demand for heating surges, and cars struggle to start in the bitterly cold air. Checking antifreeze levels, keeping gas tanks at least half full, and taking other preventative measures are wise this week across many states.
Winter weather advisories, wind chill warnings, and freeze warnings continue across more than a dozen states in what forecasters are calling “the coldest air in a generation” for some areas. State and local leaders urge residents to prepare, use caution, and limit time outdoors as this arctic blast sweeps through the nation’s midsection.
Stay safe this week by limiting time outdoors, wearing appropriate layered clothing, and checking on elderly or vulnerable neighbors who may need assistance. With rocks-bottom wind chills, this is not the week to take bitter cold lightly across much of the nation. Taking preventative action from both public agencies and individuals will be critical to managing the effects of this polar plunge.