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North Pole invades U.S.: 10 bitter, bone-chilling visuals

The polar vortex is crashing into U.S. territory, delivering the coldest weather to the Lower 48 in decades.

From eastern Montana to the Great Lakes, this historic blast of cold will be downright dangerous – with widespread wind chills of 5o-60 below zero (isolated 70 below zero readings are possible Monday morning). That’s cold enough to produce frost bite in minutes and is truly life-threatening for anyone caught out in the elements without suitable cover.

Here are 10 images that offer a sense of how widespread and severe this cold snap is…

1) Astonishing 135-degree spread in “feels like” (apparent) temperature across Lower 48 Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. central): from 79 degrees in south Florida to 56 below zero in northern North Dakota

(Oklahoma Mesonet)

2) Approximate 115 million people under wind chill warning, watch or advisory as of this morning

(National Weather Service)

3) Monday morning’s wind chill forecast from the National Weather Service: 40 below or colder wind chills span from Chicago to eastern Montana. 50 below or colder wind chills span from central Wisconsin through Minneapolis and into North Dakota.

National Weather Service forecast wind chills at 8 a.m. ET Monday (7 a.m. CT)

4) Monday’s high temperatures in Midwest from European model: Widespread 10 below or colder for highs (these are actual air temperatures, not wind chills)

Highest temperature between noon and 6 p.m. central time Monday simulated by European model ( – click to enlarge)

5) Tuesday morning’s wind chill forecast from the National Weather Service: approximately 1.5 million square miles or half of the lower 48 is forecast to have wind chills below zero, including Little Rock, Atlanta, Richmond and Washington, D.C.

National Weather Service forecast wind chills at 7 a.m. ET Tuesday

6) Tuesday morning’s jet stream from Earth visualization – showing polar vortex with upper level winds straight from the north pole wrapping into it

(Earth – contrast enhanced by CWG)

7) Tuesday’s low temperatures will be up to 40 degrees below normal in the East

Temperature difference from normal Tuesday morning in eastern U.S. from European model ( – click to enlarge)

8) In Washington, D.C., the temperature may drop 40 degrees in 24 hours – from around 48 at 1 a.m. Monday morning to the single digits at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning.

(GFS simulated temperatures in Washington DC through Tuesday morning)
(GFS simulated temperatures in Washington DC through Tuesday morning)

9) What happens to boiling water passing through a squirt gun at 42 below? (hat tip: WattsUpWithThat – from northern Ontario, January 2)

10) What happens to your body at extreme temperatures (infographic via Twitter)

Video: ‘Life-threatening’ cold bites U.S. Midwest

As the Midwest braces for the coldest weather it's seen in two decades, forecasters warn the Arctic cold temperatures could be life-threatening. (Reuters)
Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.
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Dan Stillman · January 5, 2014

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