'Polar vortex' set to bring dangerous, record-breaking cold to much of US

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

As much of the country digs out from a powerful winter storm that buried parts of the Northeast, tundra-like temperatures are poised to deliver a rare and potentially dangerous blow to the Midwest, with forecasters predicting a near-record or historic cold outbreak.

The "polar vortex," as one meteorologist calls it, is expected to send cold air piled up at the North Pole down to the U.S., funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast and driving temperatures below freezing for most of the nation.

Forecasters expect a weekend warm-up in some areas before temperatures plunge again, sending wind chill temperatures in areas in North Dakota and Minnesota to minus 50 degrees by Saturday night.

Those states are notorious for their cold winters, but states in the Mid-Atlantic and New England can also expect wind chill temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees.


Cities and states are already taking precautions. Minnesota called off school for Monday statewide, the first such closing in 17 years, because of projected highs in the minus teens and lows as cold as 30 below. Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., students also won't be in class Monday. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple urged superintendents to keep children's safety in making the decision after the state forecast called for "life threatening wind chills" through Tuesday morning.

Ken Simosko, a meteorologist from Bismarck, said it would take all of five minutes to get frostbite in minus 50 degree condition.

"We usually don't call something 'life threatening,'" he told FoxNews.com. "But yes, we want people to know that this is very much a life-threatening event."

Simosko urged people in the region to stay indoors when the temperature sinks. He said it is a rare event to see ground temperatures around the minus 25 degree mark combined wind gusts up to 30 miles an hour.

Besides the cold air, meteorologists are also eyeing another snowstorm that might form over the Midwest this weekend and potentially dump 6 to 12 inches of snow. The storm is expected to turn to rain as it makes its way east.

At least 16 deaths were blamed on the storm as it swept across the nation's eastern half on Friday, including three people who officials said died at least partly because of the extreme cold.

Meanwhile, some cities saw record lows on Friday. In Wisconsin, a record low temperature was set in Green Bay, where the mercury dipped to minus 18. The National Weather Service said that topped the 17-below-zero mark last recorded in 1979.

Sunday's playoff game in Green Bay could be among one of the coldest NFL games ever played. Temperatures at Lambeau Field are expected to be a frigid minus 2 degrees when the Packers and San Francisco 49ers kick off, and by the fourth quarter it'll be a bone-chilling minus 7, with wind chills approaching minus 30, according to the National Weather Service. Officials are warning fans to take extra safety measures to stay warm including dressing in layers and sipping warm drinks.

Warming centers opened around the region, homeless shelters saw larger crowds and cities took special measures to look after those most vulnerable to the cold. Outreach teams were searching New York City streets for homeless people at risk of freezing to death.

And though this cold spell will last just a few days as warmer air comes behind, it likely will freeze over the Great Lakes and other bodies of water, meaning frigid temperatures will likely last the rest of winter, said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for Weather Bell.

"It raises the chances for future cold," he said, adding it could include next month's Super Bowl in New York.

Fox News' Edmund DeMarche and the Associated Press contributed to this report.