Polar vortex freezes US Midwest with snow, dangerously cold air

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As a winter storm system moves through the upper Midwest, a plowing operation involving Dane County, Wis. snow plows clears snow from the westbound lanes of U.S. Highway 12/18 in Madison, Wis., Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (AP)
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Jerry Jackson rides his bike on a cold day on Cochrane Street on January 29, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (AFP)
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Vehicles travel along 441 during a snowstorm Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Appleton, Wis. (AP)
Updated 30 January 2019

Polar vortex freezes US Midwest with snow, dangerously cold air

  • A low of minus 10F (minus 23C) was forecast in Chicago and elsewhere in northern Illinois on Wednesday

CHICAGO: A blast of Arctic air from the polar vortex brought dangerous, bone-chilling cold to a wide swath of the United States on Tuesday, stretching from the Dakotas through Maine, with snow expected as far south as Alabama and Georgia.
The Midwest was the hardest-hit region, as temperatures plunged below zero Fahrenheit (minus 18 degrees Celsius). By nightfall the mercury was hovering at 0F in Chicago, 7F (minus 14C) in Detroit and minus 21f (minus 29C) in Minneapolis.
Local television pictures showed the Chicago River and Lake Michigan filled with chunks of ice.
The brutal blast known as the polar vortex is a stream of cold air that spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current has been disrupted and is now pushing south into the United States.
Officials warned Chicago residents, accustomed to chilling winters, to expect an unusually deep and dangerous freeze. Even the city’s supply of its signature deep-dish pizza was affected: The Lou Malnati’s chain announced it would stop taking delivery orders at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
“This could possibly be history-making,” said Ricky Castro, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Romeoville, Illinois.
As much as two feet (60 cm) of snow was forecast in Wisconsin, and six inches (15 cm) in Illinois. Snow was expected through Wednesday from the Great Lakes region into New England.
Some Chicago residents found warmth inside the Harold Washington Library Center, which planned to stay open on Wednesday.
Gilbert Rothschild, 79, walked through a corridor wearing three sweaters and an undershirt underneath his parka. “The more layers, the more you’re insulated,” he said.
Rothschild, the president of a liquor retailer, said he planned on keeping his stores open on Wednesday, figuring customers who were not working might want to pick up something to keep them feeling warm at home.

FROSTBITE WITHIN 10 MINUTES
Many Midwest cities opened warming shelters. Regional governments closed hundreds of schools and airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights, according to the Flightaware flight tracking website. Many had been destined for Atlanta, where the National Football League’s Super Bowl will take place on Sunday.
Amy Patterson, a vice president at the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee, said there would still be time for fans to fly to Atlanta for the game, with the National Weather Service forecasting a high of a balmy 58F (14C) on Sunday.
A low of minus 10F (minus 23C) was forecast in Chicago and elsewhere in northern Illinois on Wednesday. But with the wind chill factored in, temperatures will feel as low as minus 50F (minus 46C) through Thursday, the National Weather Service reported.
Temperatures could reach lows of minus 30F to minus 40F (minus 34C to minus 40C) in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes on Wednesday, the NWS said.
The freezing weather may have killed a man in Rochester, Minnesota, who was found dead outside his home on Sunday, according to a report by WCCO, a local CBS affiliate. Rochester police officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Jim Hayes, a National Weather Service meteorologist, warned that frostbite was possible within 10 minutes in the intense cold.

ZOO CLOSED
For many across the region, life ground to a halt.
In Chicago, home to the nation’s third-largest school system, officials plan to cancel classes for all 360,000 students on Wednesday due to the weather. Detroit also said all public schools would close, and Michigan State University said it would suspend classes, only the seventh time it has done so because of weather since 1855.
The Chicago Zoological Society said it would shut Brookfield Zoo for only the fourth time in its 85-year history on Tuesday and Wednesday.
According to the National Weather Service, the coldest recorded temperature in Chicago was minus 27 degrees (minus 33C) on Jan. 20, 1985.
Officials in Des Moines, Iowa, opened warming shelters, but also suggested residents could stay warm inside shopping malls.
In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp shut government offices in 35 counties on Tuesday, and schools across parts of the state were also closed.
In Fargo, North Dakota, where the temperature dropped to minus 24F (minus 31C), Dan Hallock, an advertising executive, marveled that people were still working outside as he bought coffee.
“The garbage men of Fargo have my utmost respect,” he said.


New virus cases in China fall for 2nd day, deaths top 2,000

In this picture taken on February 14, 2020, a Malaysia Airlines hostess (R) wearing a protective face mask checks the temperature of a Chinese passenger before she boards a flight to Beijing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2020

New virus cases in China fall for 2nd day, deaths top 2,000

  • China may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading

BEIJING: New virus cases in China continued to fall Wednesday, with 1,749 new infections and 136 new deaths announced after China’s leader said disease prevention and control was at “a critical time.”
The much-criticized quarantine of a cruise ship in Japan to avoid spreading the virus ends later in the day. The 542 cases on the ship were the most in any place outside of China and medical experts have called the quarantine a failure.
The updated figures on the COVID-19 illness for mainland China bring the total for cases to 74,185 and deaths to 2,004. New cases have fallen to under 2,000 daily for the past two days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the efforts to control the outbreak in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described in state media.
Separately, the UN secretary-general told The Associated Press that the virus outbreak “is not out of control but it is a very dangerous situation.” Antonio Guterres said in an interview in Lahore, Pakistan, that “the risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.”
China has locked down several cities in central Hubei province where the outbreak hit hardest, halting nearly all transportation and movement except for the quarantine efforts, medical care and delivery of food and basic necessities.
China also may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading. One of the automotive industry’s biggest events, China’s biannual auto show, was postponed, and many sports and entertainment events have been delayed or canceled.
Many countries set up border screenings and airlines canceled flights to and from China to prevent further spread of the disease, which has been detected in around two dozen countries and caused almost 1,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Five deaths have been reported outside the mainland, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France.
The largest number of cases outside China is the 542 on the Diamond Princess at a port near Tokyo.
South Korea evacuated six South Koreans and a Japanese family member from the ship, and they began an additional 14-day quarantine Wednesday. More than 300 American passengers were evacuated earlier and are quarantined in the United States, including at least 14 who had tested positive for the virus.
On Tuesday, the US government said the more than 100 American passengers who stayed on the ship or were hospitalized in Japan would have to wait for another two weeks before they could return to the US
The US also upgraded its travel advisory for China to Level 4, telling its citizens not to travel to anywhere in the country and advising those currently in China to attempt to depart by commercial means.
“In the event that the situation further deteriorates, the ability of the US Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to US nationals within China may be limited. The United States is not offering chartered evacuation flights from China,” the notice said.
“We strongly urge US citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings. Consider stocking up on food and other supplies to limit movement outside the home,” the notice said. The US previously flew out scores of its citizens on charter flights from Wuhan but does not have any further plans to do so, it said.
Despite, such warnings, the capital Beijing was showing signs of coming back to life this week, with road traffic at around a quarter of usual up from virtually nothing a week ago. While most restaurants, stores and office buildings remained closed, others had reopened. People entering were required to have their temperatures taken and register their contact information.