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Dublin: 6 °C Monday 21 October, 2019
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US polar vortex: Conditions to finally warm up as 'Spring-like' weather expected next week

“I don’t think there’s ever been a case where we’ve seen (such a big) shift in temperatures.”

Deep cold Minneapolis on Wednesday Source: Anthony Souffle via PA Images

THE BITTER COLD that has gripped the US midwest has begun moving out to sea, easing its grip on about a dozen states that have endured days of record-breaking snow. 

Just days after the arctic conditions, the region will seemingly swing into another season, with temperatures climbing by as much as 26 degrees Celsius, according to forecasters. Experts say the rapid thaw is unprecedented, and it could create problems of its own: bursting pipes, flooding rivers and crumbling roads.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a case where we’ve seen (such a big) shift in temperatures” in the winter, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground firm. “Past record-cold waves have not dissipated this quickly … Here we are going right into spring-like temperatures.”

The temperature finally crept above -17.8 degrees in Minneapolis and Chicago early today.

“Over the past week or so, we’ve had strong northerly winds bringing cold arctic air out of Canada — but that has all changed today,” National Weather Service meteorologist Adam Jones said. “We’ve got westerly winds bringing in more mild Pacific air.”

The warmer air continues to move east, though many places in the northeast remained painfully cold today. The wind chill in some parts of New York was expected to be as low as minus -28.9 degrees.

Winter Weather Michigan Snow and ice accumulate outside the Maud Preston Palenske Memorial Library in St. Joseph, Michigan Source: Don Campbell via AP

Schools remained closed in Buffalo, New York, but students headed back to school in other parts of the midwest.

Educators in Fargo, North Dakota, were busy yesterday after two days of cancelled classes.

For Superintendent Rupak Gandhi, who came to Fargo last summer from Colorado, this week has been “a personal new”.

“I’ve had experience with cold and snow days, but negative 50? Absolutely not,” he said.

Deaths

The dangerously cold and snowy weather is suspected in at least 18 deaths, including a man found frozen in his backyard yesterday in suburban Milwaukee and a man who died today after rear-ending a salt truck in Indiana.

But relief from the bitter midwestern cold is as close as the weekend.

Rockford, Illinois, was at a record-breaking -35 degrees yesterday morning but should be around 10 degrees on Monday. Other previously frozen areas could see temperatures of -13 degrees or higher.

The dramatic warm-up will offer a respite from the bone-chilling cold that cancelled school, closed businesses and halted trains. But potholes will appear on roads and bridges weakened by the freeze-thaw cycle. The same cycle can crack water mains and homeowners’ pipes. Scores of vehicles will be left with flat tires and bent rims.

Joe Buck, who manages Schmit Towing in Minneapolis, said he’s already taking calls for Monday to deal with a backlog of hundreds of stalled vehicles.

Winter Weather Niagara Falls Ice and water flows over the American Falls, viewed from the Canadian side in Niagara Falls Source: Tara Walton via AP

In Detroit, where some water mains are almost 150 years old, city workers were dealing with dozens of breaks, said Palencia Mobley, deputy director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Sprinkler lines burst in two buildings at Wayne State University due to the cold.

The thawing of pipes can sometimes inflict greater damage than the initial freeze. Bursts can occur when ice inside starts to melt and water rushes through the pipe, or when water in the pipe is pushed to a closed faucet by expanding ice.

Elsewhere, a bridge in the western Michigan community of Newaygo, 64 kilometres north of Grand Rapids was closed as the ice-jammed Muskegon River rose above flood stage. Officials in Buffalo, New York, watched for flooding on the Upper Niagara River because of ice.

Polar Vortex To Blast Parts Of US A University of Minnesota student was frosted in the morning cold while out jogging Source: David Joles via PA Images

In other signs that the worst of the deep freeze was ending, Xcel Energy yesterday lifted a request to its Minnesota natural gas customers to temporarily lower their thermostats to ease concerns about the fuel supply.

Masters, from Weather Underground, said the polar vortex was “rotating up into Canada” and not expected to return in the next couple of weeks. If it does return in late February, “it won’t be as intense.”

Still, memories of the dangerous cold were bound to linger.

In Illinois, at least 144 people visited hospital emergency rooms for cold-related injuries over two days. Most of the injuries were hypothermia or frostbite, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health.

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Associated Press

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