All-time records are in jeopardy this week as the coldest air in a generation descends from the Arctic into the Lower 48. Nearly 90 million people will experience temperatures at or below zero degrees this week from the Midwest to New England, according to the National Weather Service, and 25 million of those will face temperatures below minus-20.

Wind chill temperatures plummeted to minus-50 in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota Tuesday morning, and that same, painfully frigid air is forecast to spread southeast into Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit.

A portion of the polar vortex, the pool of subfreezing air that normally swirls over the Arctic Circle, dives into the Midwest this week, pushing temperatures off a cliff. The most intense cold will last from Tuesday night through Thursday across a broad region from North Dakota south into Missouri and as far east as Upstate New York. Temperatures are forecast to run as much as 50 degrees below average for late January.

Cars are covered by snow, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Wheeling, Ill. A winter storm brought more than 5 inches of snow to northern Illinois as the region braced itself for record-low subzero temperatures.

The cold air is riding behind an Arctic front that brought several inches of snow to the same region over the weekend. The pure white ground will enhance the chill, as sunlight reflects off the snow and back to space instead of being absorbed into the ground where it could warm things up.

Some forecasts Monday were calling for temperatures to drop to minus-29 in Chicago, 2 degrees below its lowest temperature on record, set on Jan. 20, 1985. Even if the record is not broken, the National Weather Service in Chicago is calling this week’s forecast “life-threatening extreme cold” that “can lead to rapid onset of frostbite and hypothermia.”

The wind chill will plunge to minus-30 to minus-40 as far south as Illinois and northern Indiana. The wind chill temperature, which is a measure of what the air fees like when wind is taken into account, will fall as low as minus-65 in the Upper Midwest.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that cold weather is responsible for the majority of weather-related fatalities. The wind chill temperature is more than a catchy forecast term. The wind blows away the insulating layer of warm air around us generated naturally by our bodies. Wind chill attempts to quantify the effect in terms of how it feels on our skin, which is why you’ll sometimes hear it called the “feels like” temperature. A wind chill of minus-20 degrees can cause frostbite in as little as 30 minutes.

Dozens of records could be broken this week as the temperatures fall. Forecast suggest Wednesday’s high temperatures in the Midwest might be some of the coldest on record for certain locations, and Thursday morning’s low temperatures also could set new records.


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