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Polar vortex unleashes frigid air

By Courtney Spamer • Updated Jan 30, 2019 at 10:28 AM

The frigid air unleashed by the polar vortex in the Midwest will expand into the Northeast this week, bringing the coldest air for the region thus far in 2019.

The bitterly cold air will follow on the heels of a wave of snow sweeping through the Northeast.

Temperatures began to plummet from the Ohio Valley to the interior Northeast on Tuesday and Tuesday night, then in coastal areas today.

"A large mass of Arctic air will move into the region by Wednesday and bring well below-normal temperatures that will stick around into Friday," AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Edwards said.

As the Arctic air rushes in, snow showers and squalls raced from the Ohio Valley to the mid-Atlantic and New England from Tuesday night into today.

"While these squalls may only impact communities, including the major cities along I-95, for a small fraction of the time (30 minutes or less), travel can become hazardous in that short time as visibility is dramatically reduced and roads become coated with snow," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski.

"Snow squalls are notorious for causing chain-reaction accidents," she added.

Temperatures are not expected to dive down quite as far as they will in the Upper Midwest; however, it is expected to be dangerously cold.

"The coldest air will settle into interior parts of the Northeast, where the mercury will drop well below zero Wednesday night," Edwards said.

Cities across the interior Northeast like Pittsburgh and Buffalo are forecast to register highs only in the single digits today, as much as 30 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for the end of January.

The coldest air will reach the I-95 corridor late tonight and Thursday. After single-digit low temperatures on Wednesday night, high temperatures on Thursday will only be in the teens for major hubs such as Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

Biting winds will make it feel even colder than what the mercury reads Wednesday through Friday, bringing AccuWeather RealFeel Temperatures below the actual temperature.

"On Wednesday night, AccuWeather RealFeel Temperatures will be well below zero for places like Pittsburgh; Baltimore; New York City; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Burlington, Vermont; and Providence, Rhode Island," Edwards said.

With RealFeel Temperatures this low, dangers such as frostbite and hypothermia can take hold in less than 30 minutes.

Those impacted by the cold will have to take the proper precautions and cover all exposed skin to avoid these dangers. The homeless should be encouraged to stay in shelters.

Residents should ensure that they have a proper amount of propane, wood pellets and/or firewood to last during this cold outbreak.

Motorists should travel with a winter survival kit in the event their vehicle breaks down, and they are forced to wait for help. Precautions should be made to prep your car for the harsh cold to help keep you from getting stranded.

With the lack of this deep of cold so far this winter, a large portion of the Great Lakes remain unfrozen, opening the door for lake-effect snow as the icy air pours in.

The very cold air pouring over the warmer waters of the Great Lakes will create lake-effect snow downwind of the lakes into Friday. In more persistent bands in western and northern New York state, several feet of snow could pile up in some communities.

"Motorists should avoid unnecessary travel in the snowbelt areas of the Great Lakes," Pydynowski said. "It can become a life-threatening situation for those who become stranded and do not have enough gas to keep their vehicle warm until help arises."

The cold is expected to ease across the Northeast at week's end, with a taste of March on the horizon for Sunday and Monday.


Huron County and the surrounding areas remain under a wind chill warning until 4 p.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures have dropped below zero and likely will remain below zero through Thursday morning. In addition, winds 15 to 25 mph with gusts over 30 mph will produce wind chills values of 25 to 40 degrees below zero. This will cause life-threatening cold conditions.

The dangerously low wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes.

Today might be the first time since January 1994 that the temperature remains below zero for the entire day. Low temperatures today and Thursday morning will be the lowest the region has felt since February 2015 and could break daily records by several degrees in some locations in Northern Ohio.

A wind chill warning means the combination of very cold air and the wind will create dangerously low wind chill values. Frostbite can occur quickly and even hypothermia or death if precautions are not taken.

The good news is that a warm-up is coming.

The temperature will reach the upper 40s on Sunday and the low 50s on Monday.

Here is the Norwalk-area forecast from the National Weather Service:

Today - Partly sunny and cold, with a high near -4. Wind chill values as low as -37. Breezy, with a west wind 21 to 25 mph, with gusts as high as 39 mph.

Tonight - Partly cloudy, with a low around -11. Wind chill values as low as -30. Southwest wind 13 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph.

Thursday - Sunny and cold, with a high near 4. Wind chill values as low as -30. Southwest wind 11 to 14 mph.

Thursday night - A chance of snow showers, mainly after 10pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 2. Wind chill values as low as -12. West wind 5 to 8 mph becoming calm in the evening. Chance of precipitation is 40 percent. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible.

Friday - A chance of snow showers before 1pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 20. East wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 40 percent. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

Friday night - Mostly cloudy, with a low around 11.

Saturday - Mostly sunny, with a high near 38.

Saturday night - Mostly cloudy, with a low around 32.

Sunday - A chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 49. Chance of precipitation is 30 percent.

Sunday night - A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 39. Chance of precipitation is 30 percent.

Monday - Showers likely. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 53. Chance of precipitation is 60 percent.

Monday night - A chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 35. Chance of precipitation is 30 percent.

Tuesday - Mostly cloudy, with a high near 44.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Courtney Spamer is an AccuWeather meteorologist.

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