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Snow, ice, brutal cold to linger in Midwest

Grand Rapids bypass near Kentwood, Michigan on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. Photo: James Coffelt

Another piece of the polar vortex containing life-threatening cold air has been spreading across the Great Lakes states. Record low temperatures are possible in many towns, as well as some major metropolitan areas. It’s some of the coldest air in a generation for the region.

This morning (Tuesday) in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the low was 25 degrees below zero. This isn’t a record, but wind gusts of 44 mph produced a nasty wind chill of 61 below zero which could happen again tomorrow morning, as well as across northern Minnesota. Wind chills early tomorrow in Chicago are expected to be in the 40s below zero.

It’s so cold that Governors Gretchen Whitner and Tony Evers have declared states of emergency for Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively. Minneapolis public schools are closed today and Wednesday.

The weather is disrupting air travel with more cancellations possible. On Monday, at Mitchell International Airport (ICAO code: MKE) in Milwaukee, the weather grounded airplanes trying to take off. More than 1,200 flights were canceled on Monday at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ICAO code: ORD) because of the cold and six inches of snow, and public schools there will be closed on Wednesday. Right now the forecast low for Chicago for tomorrow morning is 21 below zero, which would break the daily record of 15 below set on January 30, 1966.

Ground transportation won’t be any easier. There’s also a great deal of snow on the ground across the Midwest, much of it blowing around or freezing onto roads, increasing the odds for wrecks. Drivers need to allow for delays because of traffic, and any or all of the following: fuel gelling in untreated diesel; brake failures; and aging batteries with low CCA values not cranking. Check the latest winter weather alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS) on this interactive map, and check chain laws here for the latest updates on winter driving.

The extreme arctic air will stick around much of the week, with temperatures for many areas staying below zero 24/7 until Friday afternoon. This will create a demand for reefer trailers in the Midwest markets during the next few days, along with possible increases in reefer tender rejection rates. Beverages, soups, canned vegetables, water and many other types of loads that could possibly freeze will need extra protection while in route for delivery.

  SONAR Ticker: Reefer Tender Rejection Index - Tuesday radar at 3:00 p.m. EST
SONAR Ticker: Reefer Tender Rejection Index – Tuesday radar at 3:00 p.m. EST

This level of biting cold and wind also puts a lot of stress on the body if you’re not properly dressed in layers, as well as wearing a hat and gloves. Frostbite can set it very quickly – within five minutes in some cases – first attacking exposed extremities like the fingertips, ears and nose. Unfortunately, it can be deadly. Police in Rochester, Minnesota believe the extreme cold is what killed a young man there last weekend, according to a report from WCCO-TV. Truckers: please be prepared, bundle up, and be careful! The least amount of time you are outside in these conditions, the better off you’ll be.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.