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Polar Vortex Sends Life-Threatening Freeze To US 684

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-bit-chilly dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Reuters reports that the Midwestern United States is shivering through the region's lowest temperatures in twenty years as forecasters warn that life-threatening cold is heading eastward as a polar vortex of freezing Arctic weather sweeps across the United States. 'The coldest temperatures in almost two decades will spread into the northern and central U.S. today behind an arctic cold front,' says the National Weather Service. 'Combined with gusty winds, these temperatures will result in life-threatening wind chill values as low as 60 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit/minus 51 degrees Celsius).' The coldest temperature reported in the lower 48 states on Sunday was minus 40 F (-40 C) in the towns of Babbitt and Embarrass, Minnesota. Meteorologists warn that the wind-chill factor could make it feel twice as cold, causing frostbite to exposed parts of the body within minutes. Eleven people have already died in weather-related incidents in the past week, including a 71-year-old woman with Alzheimer's who wandered from her home in upstate New York and was found frozen to death only 100m away. Polar vortexes occur seasonally at the North Pole, and their formation resembles that of hurricanes in more tropical regions: fast-moving winds build up around a calm center. Unlike a hurricane, these are frigid polar winds, circling the Arctic at more than 100 miles per hour. The spinning winds typically trap this cold air in the Arctic. But the problem comes when the polar vortex weakens or splits apart, essentially flinging these cold wind patterns out of the Arctic and into our backyards. 'All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,' says meteorologist Ryan Maue. 'If you're under 40, you've not seen this stuff before.'"
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Polar Vortex Sends Life-Threatening Freeze To US

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  • by MonkeyDancer (797523) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:19AM (#45877921)

    OMG! We're all going to die!

  • Painful cold (Score:4, Informative)

    by riis138 (3020505) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:21AM (#45877939)
    As a resident of Michigan, I can concur that this is the worst weather I have ever seen in my life. I am under 40, but I seem to remember getting hit by something similar back in the mid 90s. I am one of 10 people in the I.T. department at work that made it in today. Considering we have a staff of around 150 people, that's a lot of folks stuck in their homes.
    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      As a resident of Michigan, I can concur that this is the worst weather I have ever seen in my life. I am under 40, but I seem to remember getting hit by something similar back in the mid 90s. I am one of 10 people in the I.T. department at work that made it in today. Considering we have a staff of around 150 people, that's a lot of folks stuck in their homes.

      And you dont even have the worst of it. Michigan was protected nicely by warm air coming off Lake Michigan; it was more than 10F colder in Indiana than it was in Michigan this morning.

    • Re:Painful cold (Score:5, Informative)

      by afidel (530433) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:29AM (#45878033)

      Yeah, here in NE Ohio we're expecting lows about the same as we saw in 1994, while this is an unusual cold pattern it's not like it's unprecedented.

      • Re:Painful cold (Score:4, Informative)

        by Joey Vegetables (686525) on Monday January 06, 2014 @12:16PM (#45879257) Journal
        NE Ohio here also (Lakewood). I remember those days in January 1994. Also somewhat snowy in addition to being cold. I remember having a LOT of trouble getting my car started . . . I had to a get a jump-start from a friend. But I don't remember it being very windy then. It's windy now and getting worse. The next 36 hours or so will not be fun. My two biggest fears are: (a) pipes freezing/bursting, since some of them run along outside walls; (b) my wife going out someplace and getting herself stranded; and (c) having to shovel snow while it is blowing right in my face at 30MPH or better. That was not fun when it was 40 degrees warmer than it'll be tonight.
      • by Quirkz (1206400)

        I was in northern Ohio in '94, as a college student with no car. I remember days so cold I didn't want to go out even at noon, and some really frigid walks to the grocery store a mile away. Of course I was also foolish enough to go out sledding one night when the wind chill was -30. It was hilarious to come inside completely dry and then turn wet as our clothes went from frozen to thawed. One friend had his eyebrows freeze to his hat.

    • Re:Painful cold (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@nospAm.carpanet.net> on Monday January 06, 2014 @11:03AM (#45878431) Homepage

      Course, you guys often have it worst over there, but, in Boston today it was quite the opposite.
      In fact, last I checked it was almost 60 F outside. This morning, the foot of snow we got a few days ago was melting so fast you could actually see the water vapor coming off the piles of snow, it was enough to make it the foggiest commute I have had in what seems like a decade.

      Looking at the forcast, we are expecting this snap to hit us and bring it down to 16 tonight. That is one hell of a temp drop!
       

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      As a lifelong resident of Michigan, this is actually a normal winter. It is not bad, it is not "The worst" , it's a medium winter. I remember when Lake michigan was frozen past the visible horizon, I remember when we had 2 feet of snow in early November and so much snow you had 5 foot tall snowbanks in milder places like Grand Rapids.

      You think this is the "worst ever" I laugh heartily at that. Please move to Houghton,MI or along the lake shore of Lake Michigan from Grand Haven northward. They see

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:23AM (#45877963)
    Crap... It was that stupid "The Day After Tomorrow" movie.
  • Coldest in nearly two decades...

    If you're under 40, you haven't seen this kind of thing before

    Does whoever wrote this think that a decade is 20 years? Or am I slow this AM?

  • In which units? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joe Random (777564) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:25AM (#45877999)

    Meteorologists warn that the wind-chill factor could make it feel twice as cold

    What the hell does "twice as cold" even mean? If it's intended to mean "double the negative distance from zero", then it's unit-dependent. The same with "half the temperature". Just give an actual temperature, instead of using vagary in an attempt to impress people with how cold it's doing to be.

    • George Carlin beat you to that rant. "If it's zero degrees outside today, and it's supposed to be twice as cold tomorrow, how cold is it going to be?"

    • Re:In which units? (Score:5, Informative)

      by blueg3 (192743) on Monday January 06, 2014 @11:28AM (#45878703)

      While normally I'd agree with you, wind chill isn't actually a temperature. It's an imaginary reference temperature based on the heat loss rate of a human (comparing the rate with wind to the stagnant-air rate of a different temperature). So, "twice as cold" here has a logical definition: the heat loss rate of a human is twice as high.

  • It's called WINTER (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ka9dgx (72702) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:26AM (#45878005) Homepage Journal

    This is a REAL Chicago winter... you kids have all gotten soft in the last 30 years. We used to have these all the time when I was a kid. I remember in about 1980, it had been this cold for sever days in a row so I had sever cabin fever (a condition resulting in the need to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE)... so I walked 1.2 miles in -40 temperatures to get to Montgomery Wards. (I just checked the distance using google maps) That's -40 REAL degrees (trivia: -40F == -40C), or -80F with the "Wind Chill".... I was very glad my dad came to pick me up and take me home, so I didn't need to make the return trip on foot.

    Two pairs of jeans (the thick kind we used to have back then) were barely enough to keep my legs warm during that walk.

    We've had these before, we'll have them again... shove off with the invented names like "Polar Vortex"... it's just WINTER. /rant

    PS: Maybe it's cabin fever getting to me? ;-)

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:34AM (#45878099) Homepage

      LOL, why when we were kids we had it tough [phespirit.info] ... "House! You were lucky to live in a house! We used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us, no furniture, 'alf the floor was missing, and we were all 'uddled together in one corner for fear of falling."

      And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you.

    • by swb (14022) on Monday January 06, 2014 @11:00AM (#45878401)

      The NOAA lists -27F as the lowest recorded temperature in Chicago.

      They also have a list of days with a temperature below -16F and 1980 wasn't listed.

      http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lot/?n=chi_temperature_records [noaa.gov]

      • The lowest temperature I've personally experienced was below -20 F.

        How much below I don't know because the lowest temperature marking on the thermometer I had was -20, and all the alcohol was below that. In fact it was all in the bulb. Huddled. I think if you listened carefully you could maybe hear it chattering.

    • Two pairs of jeans (the thick kind we used to have back then) were barely enough to keep my legs warm during that walk.

      Jeans are absolutely the last thing you want to be wearing in cold weather. The cotton in them is hydrophilic, and that will only amplify the cold.

      Even polyester is better than denim for cold weather...

  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:26AM (#45878009) Homepage

    Not that long ago (meaning.. 5 to 10 years) it was quite common in my area of northern new england to have a week or more of -30 at night -10 day. We've all been spoiled a bit the past few years by only a handful of days like that. What is unsual about this year is that we had a few of those days in mid/late December instead of the more typical Feb.

    Also, while those -30, -40 etc numbers sound terrible, if you dress properly its not that bad and further, they usually happen betwen 4am and 7am and quickly moderate.

    • Re:Nonsense (Score:5, Informative)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:48AM (#45878247)

      "Also, while those -30, -40 etc numbers sound terrible, if you dress properly its not that bad and further, they usually happen betwen 4am and 7am and quickly moderate."

      The last winter like that I was still in high school (less than 10 years ago) and, unfortunately, the combination of waiting for the bus at 6:20am and teenage stupidity meant I was outside in -35F (-75F wind chill gusts) without a coat. Looking back, I'm starting to think I may have been a little bit retarded.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        The last winter like that I was still in high school (less than 10 years ago) and, unfortunately, the combination of waiting for the bus at 6:20am and teenage stupidity meant I was outside in -35F (-75F wind chill gusts) without a coat. Looking back, I'm starting to think I may have been a little bit retarded.

        As far as I can tell, that is pretty common among high school students.

        They seem to be the only ones I ever see who are woefully under-dressed for the weather because they're too focused on being cool.

  • by Random2 (1412773) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:28AM (#45878015) Journal
    But how will our metric friends know what the temperature is if we report -40F? How will they ever tell?!

    Someone, please, think of the pedants!
  • by lazarus (2879) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:32AM (#45878077) Journal

    Get your SuperSoaker ready and snow your friends! [io9.com]

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:33AM (#45878085)
    In the UK we have only had frost in the morning two or three times this winter. It's much warmer than usual.
  • by ModernGeek (601932) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:35AM (#45878109) Homepage
    Years from now someone will look at this event from lightyears away, and from their telescopes on their planet with a planet wide climate control system, they will see this system and observe a small planet orbiting a star much like their own, with a lot of activity in the radio spectrum being emitted. However, they will dismiss this planet as having intelligent life as the weather patterns are too sporadic to be those from a planet which harbors a civilization; for those who have not yet controlled their planet are simply animals and nothing more.
  • by Bugler412 (2610815) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:46AM (#45878219)
    This ridiculous storm naming habit needs to stop! It's winter, sometimes it's cold and snowy, sometimes it's REALLY cold and snowy. I guess the next storm will be called "Winter Storm Anus Ripper" eh?
  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:48AM (#45878241)

    This is all media drama. Real story here is how most people do not want to layer-up for weather like this. They will chance it wearing jeans, no hat (don't want to mess the 'do) and dressing just warm enough to make it to their car. This works great until car leaves you stranded because injectors gel'd up, or whatever. In this weather, walking a couple miles in the wind wearing only blue jeans, no hat/socks/mitts will easily f- you up. If you need to dress lightly, at least throw some appropriate gear in the trunk in case you *do* need to be out in it. Even new cars can have trouble in extreme cold.

    • I'd take it a step further and say the real story is that people are idiots. On a scale between Dangerously Oblivious and Zombie Apocalypse Prepper, most people heavily lean towards the former. Whether that's dressing for the conditions, driving for the conditions, keeping some basic emergency supplies in your car, having enough food in the house, having an emergency alternative heat source, etc. I'm not saying everyone needs a Unimog and a hardened bunker with a years worth of MREs in their backyard but

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:48AM (#45878251)

    One of the articles (the last one linked to) says, "Brutal conditions are expected in Detroit, which has had only five days in living memory when temperatures stayed below freezing all day." I find that hard to believe. I live quite a bit further south than Detroit, and we probably have at least two or three days a year where that is the case. Looking at the forecast for Detroit, I suspect it is a conversion problem. If someone in America says, "There have been only five days in living memory that the temp in Detroit has not gotten above zero", someone outside of the U.S. might read that and think zero Celcius, which is freezing, and not -18 Celcius, which is what is meant.

     

    • , "Brutal conditions are expected in Detroit, which has had only five days in living memory when temperatures stayed below freezing all day." I find that hard to believe.

      Large cities have heat traps over them - they tend to stay rather warmer than the surrounding countryside.

  • by jolyonr (560227) on Monday January 06, 2014 @10:53AM (#45878305) Homepage

    Rubbish.

    The Day after Tomorrow was released in 2004.

  • Blah blah... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Akratist (1080775) on Monday January 06, 2014 @11:00AM (#45878399)
    Looking at a chart for this part of the Midwest, there have been plenty of days this cold, if not significantly colder. The real problem here is crappy reporting, short memories, an ignorance of historical data, and general sensationalism. The big laugher is in last sentence of the last linked article: "Brutal conditions are expected in Detroit, which has had only five days in living memory when temperatures stayed below freezing all day." Really? No one knows the difference between 0 degree F and freezing? Between this kind of sloppy reporting and naming winter storms, the public interest in meteorology is going to taper off even further, once we all get through this and it gets back into the 40s by the end of the week. When weather news then becomes marginalized, people pay even less attention to the realities of climate change and other issues...maybe that's the point, I don't know.
  • As a Canadian... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kinthelt (96845) on Monday January 06, 2014 @11:53AM (#45878977) Homepage

    Suck it up, princesses.

    • by Piata (927858) on Monday January 06, 2014 @02:47PM (#45880829)
      I cracked up at the "If you're under 40, you've not seen this stuff before" comment. I have a 4 year old nephew that plays outside in this weather. On the bright side, all those yuppies in the US who bought Canada Goose coats can finally justify their purchase.
  • Dang iz cold (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Suffering Bastard (194752) on Monday January 06, 2014 @11:55AM (#45879005)

    I have the good fortune to live on Lake Michigan in Chicago, where there are beautiful mists rising off the lake as the waves smash into the ice piles extending off the shore, splashing on them, adding layer on layer of ice. Truly a fascinating sight.

    This is the kind of winter I recall as a kid, blizzard of '78 being one vivid example. Snow piled up to the roof of our garage! It got so heavy that come Spring the snow melted to reveal the yard fences all bent out of shape. But the past several winters have been so mild, barely freezing at all the past two, that today there's almost a sense of a return to normalcy.

    In "get off my lawn" mode, all this weather reporting drama is just silly -- when I was younger winter was like this on a regular basis. We were heartier for it too. I had grizzly chest hairs by age six.

  • Repeat After Me! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rabtech (223758) on Monday January 06, 2014 @12:26PM (#45879387) Homepage

    Repeat After Me: No single weather event can be said to be proof or refutation of Global Climate Change.

    All Global Climate Change says is that as the *average* global temperature increases the traditional weather patterns we have become accustomed to will change in unpredictable ways. Some areas may see colder winters, others warmer. Some areas will see increased rain, others will become deserts. In fact some places may have hotter, drier summers yet colder wetter winters. The problems come from the fact that we've put farms and cities in certain locations with the expectation that the weather would be stable over the long term.

    You can't say any one hurricane is proof of global climate change any more than you can say any one cold winter refutes global climate change.

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