Published: Mon, February 04, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Death Toll Rises As Polar Vortex Brings Arctic Temperatures To The Midwest

Death Toll Rises As Polar Vortex Brings Arctic Temperatures To The Midwest

The lowest temperature recorded early yesterday morning was -37C in Stonington, Michigan, according to the National Weather Service.

The bitter cold was caused by a polar vortex, which is a stream of cold air that spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole.

The result ... isn't necessarily a one-to-one link from the stratospheric disruption to a blast of cold at the surface, but more of a tilt in the odds favoring extremely cold weather.

More than 40 cold-temperature records were broken on Thursday, the coldest morning since the polar vortex moved in late on Tuesday, clinging to a swath of the United States from Iowa and the Dakotas across the Great Lakes region and into Maine.

U.S. media reported as many as 21 weather-related deaths since a snow-storm hit the Midwest early in the week, followed by plunging temperatures Wednesday and Thursday.

This time of year, "I don't think there's ever been a case where we've seen [such a big] shift in temperatures", Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground, told USA Today.

By tomorrow, the weather was expected to be comparatively balmy - around 10 deg C in Chicago and Detroit. Experts said the rapid thaw is unprecedented, and could lead to pipes bursting, rivers flooding and crumbling roads. Elements of normal life resumed in fits and starts, including transportation. Chicago was hardest hit, with O'Hare International Airport experiencing over 700 cancellations, according to the FlightAware tracking site. Hypothermia and frostbite proved to be major dangers this week. Despite those efforts, there were still reports of fatalities.

According to officials, the 29 victims included a 72-year-old woman who was found unresponsive in her garage on Friday in Germantown Hills, Illinois, a University of Iowa student, a woman who froze to death inside a Milwaukee apartment after the thermostat malfunctioned and a man who died while using a snowblower in Buffalo.

On Friday, police in East Moline, Illinois, about 160 miles (260 km) west of Chicago, said the weather may have contributed to the death of a FedEx freight driver whose body was found between two trucks on Thursday outside a company distribution hub.

Rachel Liao (29), a student in NY, said she wished classes had been cancelled due to the cold.

Officials across multiple states have reported weather-related deaths in Milwaukee, Detroit, Rochester, Minnesota, and IL, including an 82-year-old man who died from exposure after falling outside his home.

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