The Midwest is frozen today. Blame it on a polar vortex that’s pushed temperatures to the lowest levels in decades, grinding major cities to a halt from Chicago to Park Rapids, Minnesota, where the wind chill hit 65 degrees below zero Wednesday.
States of emergency have been declared in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois, and five people have already died due to the extreme cold.
“This is very serious weather and my administration is not underestimating the gravity of this in how we respond,” Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker said. “We are undertaking a coordinated effort to keep people safe, but we need all Illinoisans to do their part.”
More than 2,000 flights have been canceled across the country, according to FlightAware.com. Another 9,000 flights have been delayed. Amtrak canceled all of its services in and out of Chicago, where temperatures are closing in on the all-time record low of 27 degrees below zero. The city was so cold that transit rail tracks have been lit on fire to keep the metal from contracting.
The wind chill hit 47 below in Milwaukee, where schools, museums, courthouses, and zoos have been closed due to the cold weather emergency. Even beer deliveries were canceled.
The severity of the cold was driven home late Tuesday night when the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to suspend service across the upper Midwest. “Employee safety is a top priority for the Postal Service and this decision was made for their safety,” USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum told NPR.
A polar vortex is to blame for the severe cold this week. The National Weather Service explains what that is:
The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term “vortex” refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream. This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States
The bitter cold is expected to last through Friday, with temperatures expected to reach the 40s in Chicago this weekend.