‘Polar Vortex’ Cold Snap Can Give People Frostbite in 5 Minutes: Reports

January 29, 2019 Updated: January 29, 2019

The so-called “polar vortex” cold snap affecting primarily the Midwest and the northern United States can cause severe frostbite in just a few minutes.

The Midwest will be the worst hit, and Chicago is forecast to see a high of -12 degrees and a low of around -22 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday. Other cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Minneapolis (which could see a low of -30), and Des Moines will endure similar, frigid conditions.

With wind chill factored in, temperatures could be as low as -60 in some places.

“It’s a hostile place to be without adequate clothing as you know,” said Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder of the extreme cold that’s forecast to hit his city.

He said frostbite will most likely impact homeless people the most, reported Fox9, which said that temperatures in the city could hit 50 degrees below zero after wind chills.

In such conditions, frostbite is possible in less than five minutes, according to the Fox affiliate station.

A map shows the forecast temperatures around the United States. (National Weather Service)

“It’s a huge issue,” said Snyder of the homelessness situation. “As you can see, you don’t have to stand out here on Hennepin Ave. for very long. You’ll see people walking up and down with no hats, no gloves, no socks, or maybe a hoodie. It’s not going to keep them warm.”

Wind chill warnings were in effect for much of the Midwest and Northeast, according to the National Weather Service.

“One of the coldest arctic air mass intrusions in recent memory is surging south into the Upper Midwest before spreading across much of the eastern two-thirds of the country. Through late week, expect frigid temperatures, bitterly cold and life-threatening wind chills, likely leading to widespread record lows and low maximum temperatures from the Upper Midwest to the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley,” it says.

Amid the so-called “polar vortex” that’s affecting the Midwest, some have noted that Chicago will be colder than Antarctica this week. (NWS)

More Details

Cities in the Midwest opened warming shelters as temperatures plummeted well below zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 17.8 degrees Celsius). Regional governments closed hundreds of schools and airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights, including those to Atlanta just days before the National Football League’s Super Bowl, Reuters reported.

“Listen to the people in your area … We’re taking about what could be a very dangerous situation, especially for those traveling,” NWS forecaster Jim Hayes warned on Tuesday.

He said in some places, frostbite is possible in 10 minutes, adding that temperatures will increase significantly after a few days.

Winter Weather Chicago
Chicago’s El trains move along snow-covered tracks in Chicago, on Jan. 28, 2019. The plunging temperatures expected later this week that have forecasters especially concerned. Wind chills could dip to negative 55 degrees in northern Illinois, which the National Weather Service calls “possibly life-threatening.” (Kiichiro Sato/AP Photo)

Extremely cold temperatures can also cause hypothermia, which is when the body’s temperature dips below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the NWS says on its website.

Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and exhaustion, says the Mayo Clinic’s website.

“Someone with hypothermia usually isn’t aware of his or her condition because the symptoms often begin gradually. Also, the confused thinking associated with hypothermia prevents self-awareness. The confused thinking can also lead to risk-taking behavior,” says the Mayo Clinic.

Winter Weather Chicago
Pedestrians cross an icy Chicago River on Madison St. near the Civic Opera House in Chicago, on Jan. 28, 2019. (Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Reuters contributed to this report

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