Sunday 17 February 2019

In pictures: Lake Michigan freezes over as vortex sweeps across North America

Icicles form on the walkway at North Avenue Beach of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek
Icicles form on the walkway at North Avenue Beach of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek
The city skyline is seen from the North Avenue Beach at Lake Michigan, as bitter cold phenomenon called the polar vortex has descended on much of the central and eastern United States, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek
A harbor light is covered with snow and ice on the Lake Michigan at 39th Street Harbor, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Chicago. A deadly arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking temperatures on Wednesday, triggering widespread closures of schools and businesses, and prompting the U.S. Postal Service to take the rare step of suspending mail delivery to a wide swath of the region. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The cold front bringing its icy grip to parts of the US and Canada is a result of a weather condition called a polar vortex.

Officials throughout the Mid West are taking extraordinary measures to protect the homeless and other vulnerable people from the bitter cold, including turning some city buses into mobile warming shelters in Chicago.

A general view of the skyline during subzero temperatures carried by the polar vortex, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 30, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Instagram @peteyp4blo/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
A general view of the skyline during subzero temperatures carried by the polar vortex, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 30, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit Instagram @peteyp4blo/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
The city skyline is seen from the North Avenue Beach at Lake Michigan, as bitter cold phenomenon called the polar vortex has descended on much of the central and eastern United States, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek
Ice covers the Chicago River Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Chicago. A deadly arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking temperatures triggering widespread closures of schools and businesses. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
Icicles form on the walkway at North Avenue Beach of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek
Frozen Lake Michigan is pictured in St. Joseph, Michigan, U.S. January, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Joshua Nowicki via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
A harbor light is covered with snow and ice on the Lake Michigan at 39th Street Harbor, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Chicago. A deadly arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking temperatures on Wednesday, triggering widespread closures of schools and businesses, and prompting the U.S. Postal Service to take the rare step of suspending mail delivery to a wide swath of the region. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
A man walks his dogs near Wrigley Field during subzero temperatures carried by the polar vortex, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek
Desolate Wrigley Field is seen at sunset during subzero temperatures carried by the polar vortex, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek
A lone pedestrian crosses the Chicago River early Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. A deadly arctic deep freeze enveloped the Midwest with record-breaking temperatures. (Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago's lakefront is covered with ice on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Temperatures are plummeting in Chicago as officials warn against venturing out into the dangerously cold weather. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Temperatures plunged as low as minus 32C in North Dakota with wind chills as low as minus 52C in Minnesota. It was nearly as cold in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Governors in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan declared emergencies as the worst of the cold threatened.

The National Weather Service forecast temperatures in Chicago as low as minus 33C, with wind chills to minus 46C. Detroit's outlook was for overnight lows around minus 26C, with wind chills dropping to minus 40C.

"These are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately," Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures."

A wind chill of minus 32C can freeze skin within 15 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

At least four deaths were linked to the weather system, including a man struck by a snow plough in the Chicago area, a young couple whose SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana, and a Milwaukee man found frozen to death in a garage.

The unusual cold could stick around for another eight weeks, Mr Cohen said.

"The impacts from this split, we have a way to go. It's not the end of the movie yet," Mr Cohen said. "I think at a minimum, we're looking at mid-February, possibly through mid-March."

Americans were introduced to the polar vortex five years ago. It was in early January 2014 when temperatures dropped to minus 27C in Chicago, and meteorologists, who used the term for decades, started talking about it on social media.

This outbreak may break some daily records for cold and is likely to be even more brutal than five years ago, especially with added wind chill, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private weather firm Weather Underground.

When warm air invades the polar region, it can split the vortex or displace it, usually towards Siberia, Mr Cohen said.

Recently, there have been more splits, which increase the odds of other places getting ultra-cold, he said. Pieces of the polar vortex have chilled Europe, Siberia and North America this time.

When the forces penning the polar vortex in the Arctic are weak, it wanders, more often to Siberia than Michigan, and it is happening more frequently in the last couple of decades, said Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.

A study a year ago in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society looked at decades of the Arctic system and found the polar vortex has shifted "toward more frequent weak states".

When the polar vortex pieces wander, warmth invades the Arctic, Alaska, Greenland and Canada, Mr Masters said.

While the Mid West chills, Australia has been broiling to record-breaking heat. The world as a whole on Monday was 0.4C warmer than the 1979-2000 average, according to the University of Maine's Climate Reanalyser.

Press Association

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