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Winter Storms Sweep Across the US

by ClaireBullen January 2014 - last edited February 2014

Though winter storms and intense cold aren’t anything new for the hardened residents of Fargo, Chicago, or other parts of the chilly Midwest, the weather that’s been sweeping across the country this week isn’t typical. Rather, it’s record book-worthy: icy temperatures have been recorded across the country, including some of the lowest in more than two decades. The temperatures are said to measure between 30 and 50 degrees colder than the average for this time of year.


US Winter Storms | New York

After being battered by winter storm Hercules, New York is now subject to freezing temperatures © Paul Katz/Photodisc/Thinkstock

After winter storm Hercules brought strong winds, a deep chill, and more than a foot of snow to parts of the country last week, this latest wintery forecast is being attributed to a so-called ‘polar vortex’ – a phenomenon that sounds more akin to science fiction than real life.


US Winter Storms | Polar Vortex

The Polar Vortex, as seen in a satellite shot by NASA © NASA Goddard Photo and Video
The unusual event occurs when a swirling system of air across the Arctic breaks loose from its normal cycle and moves south. The disruption to the jet stream pushes warm and moist air further south, while the blistering cold reaches deeper into the northern hemisphere. While not unheard of, this decidedly uncommon event has succeeded in plunging much of the United States into a bitter deep freeze.

US Winter Storms | Chicago | Chiberia

Chicago has seen some of the worst of the arctic blast © Henryk Sadura/iStock/Thinkstock

In Chicago, nicknamed ‘Chiberia’ by residents, raw temperatures have dipped as low as -27 degrees Celsius (-16 F), while Fargo has displayed temperatures in the -30s. The intense cold has even reached as far south as Atlanta, which measured in at just -14 degrees (6 F) on Monday. Yesterday, the cold temperatures extended into the northeast and even further south; more than half of the population has been put under a cold advisory.


US Winter Storms | Hudson River

In Kingston, New York, the Hudson River had frozen over © Anthony Quintano

Combined with the wind chill factor, the real air feel for many of these areas is far colder than the raw temperatures: as low as a staggering -51 degrees (-60 F). Don’t discount the importance of wearing layers in these conditions – exposed skin can show signs of frostbite in as little as five to ten minutes.


US Winter Storms

Minnesota and other parts of the Midwest have been crippled by the cold front © sprout22/iStock/Thinkstock

All those who are planning to travel this week are advised to keep one eye on the forecasts: snowfall, ice, and low temperatures have all combined to impact travel, close airports, and delay or cancel flights around the region. Thankfully, the cold snap is predicted to dissipate in the latter half of this week.

Written by Claire Bullen

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About the author: ClaireBullen

Claire Bullen

Claire is a born globetrotter: before relocating to London, she spent time in New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. When she's not in pursuit of the next exciting meal, she can be found haunting indie bookstores and sketching outdoors. Follow Claire @ClaireMBullen