After a January without much wintry weather in the eastern two-thirds of the United States, some of the coldest air on Earth is spilling into the region, or will soon.
Temperatures are set to drop below zero in much of New England, with some wind chills as low as minus-50 to minus-60 on Saturday morning.
In some ways, it’s deja vu as these cold snaps mimic one in December that drew a brief bout of extreme chill into the Lower 48. As with that cold spell, the good news for heating bills is that this Arctic attack won’t last too long.
The return of winter
As the first Arctic front ran southeastward, daily record lows were tallied beginning Sunday across the central United States, from the Rockies to the Plains. By Monday, cold records became widespread, including in:
- Peter Sinks, Utah: minus-62 degrees
- Yellowstone, Wyo.: minus-42 degrees
- Idaho Falls, Idaho: minus-32 degrees
- Rapid City, S.D.: minus-24 degrees
- Denver: minus-10 degrees
Records for low maximums were also common on Monday. For example, Denver only rose to 4 degrees and Lander, Wyo., only reached minus-9 degrees.
Wind chill alerts were up for much of the northern Plains through Tuesday morning as lows again fell below zero from Denver to Des Moines and Milwaukee, and to the north. Wind chills were as low as minus-50 in parts of North Dakota.
Enormous temperature contrasts have emerged between areas behind and ahead of the Arctic cold front. Record highs were common in the Southeast on Monday and rose as high as 90 near Dundee, Fla., which is about midway between Tampa and Melbourne.
That made for a 152-degree swing in temperatures across the Lower 48 on Monday, one of the largest in recent decades.
The highest temperatures in Georgia and Florida matched January records, according to climate analyst Maximiliano Herrera. Additional record highs are possible Tuesday in Florida.
Painful cold pointed at Northeast
A lobe of the polar vortex in the troposphere (not to be confused with the stratospheric polar vortex) is expected to dive into northern New England on Friday and Saturday. Currently spinning near its typical home in the Hudson Bay region of Canada, the pocket of exceptionally cold conditions will plunge southeastward.
“A ferocious Arctic blast will bring dangerous cold and blowing snow Friday into Saturday,” tweeted the National Weather Service office serving northern Maine, as it predicted wind chills in the minus-50s.
Two weather systems will work in tandem to drive this frigid air southward: a rapidly intensifying storm — or bomb cyclone — over the Labrador Sea and a very strong zone of high pressure over Ontario and Quebec. The counterclockwise circulation around the storm and clockwise circulation around the high pressure zone will direct cold into New England like interlocking gears.
Temperatures about 5,000 feet off the ground are expected to dip to at least minus-40 Celsius (same in Fahrenheit), which meteorological researchers have called the “creme-de-la-creme” of cold air.
By Friday night into Saturday morning, the air over New England will be about as cold as anywhere in the world.
The coldest airmass on the entire planet will be over New England by Friday night – the only comparable air currently exists over central Siberia #Vermont #vtwx #nhwx #mawx #riwx #ctwx #mewx pic.twitter.com/OI0RwjmFYp— Ben Frechette (@benfrechettewx) January 31, 2023
Wind chills as low as minus-30 to minus-60 will overtake much of New York and New England early Saturday. Boston could see wind chills around minus-30, while New York City could fall as low as minus-15. Wind chills could flirt with zero even as far south as Washington, D.C.
Wind chills may dip as low as minus-85 degrees on the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. With an elevation of 6,288 feet, temperatures in the minus-30s coupled with wind gusts around 100 mph will lead to dangerous conditions for those who dare wander outside the observatory.
“This will not be weather to take unnecessary risks in,” wrote the Weather Service in Portland, Maine, in a forecast discussion.
Actual temperatures are forecast to dip to a range of about zero to minus-10 degrees in southern New England and minus-10 to minus-30 degrees from Upstate New York to northern New England. These temperatures will threaten a dozen or so record lows Saturday morning. Records for the coldest afternoon high temperatures will also probably be broken Friday and Saturday.
In Boston, current projections suggest the coldest weather since at least February 2016, when the mercury fell to minus-9 degrees. Anything that cold or colder would rank among the top-20 coldest mornings on record there. New York City fell to minus-1 degree during that cold spell, the coldest there since at least 1994, when it was minus-2 degrees. During the upcoming cold snap, the coldest low in the Big Apple is predicted to be about 5 degrees on Saturday morning.
By Sunday and into Monday, the cold will ease, with above-average temperatures soon to return.
Jason Samenow contributed to this report.