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The punishing, historic cold invading the Northeast, in five maps

The coldest wind chills in more than 50 years -- minus-50 or lower -- are forecast in northern New England on Friday night

Temperature forecast from the European weather model for Saturday morning. (Pivotal Weather) (Pivotal Weather /Pivotal Weather)
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Dangerously cold air from the Arctic roared into the Northeast early Friday, and it is poised to become even more frigid Friday night into Saturday morning. Parts of Maine could endure their most extreme wind chills in at least a generation.

Nearly 50 million Americans in 15 states find themselves under wind chill alerts into Saturday, with millions more in Canada’s southeast provinces under warnings for extreme cold as well.

Wind chills are projected to bottom out between minus-50 and minus-65 in northern and western Maine and could even plummet to below minus-100 at New England’s highest spot, the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Through early Friday evening, wind chills had already tumbled to minus-107 on Mount Washington, its lowest on record, around minus-50 in northern and western Maine and into the minus-40s in Upstate New York.

The National Weather Service warned such wind chills are “life threatening” and could result in frostbite in as little as five minutes.

Arctic air can be dangerous. Here’s what to know about frostbite.

Actual air temperatures are forecast to fall below zero throughout much of New England and the interior Northeast on Friday night. In Boston, it’s predicted to be the coldest since 2016.

While wind chills will flirt with records, especially in western and northern New England, the piercing cold brought on by this invading lobe of the polar vortex lobe is mercifully in the rear view by the end of the weekend.

The most anomalous cold on earth

A huge area of temperatures about 30 to 40 degrees below normal will cover New England and much of southeast Canada into Friday night. Absolute temperatures may be somewhat colder in northern Siberia, but the cold over northeastern North America is much more anomalous.

Friday night’s forecast low of around minus-17 degrees in Burlington, Vt., is 26 degrees below normal, while Boston’s forecast low of minus-6 degrees is 27 degrees below normal. At the summit of Mount Washington, the predicted low of minus-46 degrees is about 40 degrees below normal.

Extreme wind chills

Wind chills are forecast to drop to minus-20 degrees or lower in most of New England into early Saturday. Many of the minimum wind chill forecasts from the Weather Service are truly extreme, and could be the lowest in at least 50 years in some locations.

Mount Washington is forecast to see a minimum wind chill of minus-105.4 degrees, which would surpass the record of minus-102.7 degrees set in 2004. Winds at the crewed observatory are forecast to blow as high as 101 mph sustained, with gusts around 128 mph.

Outside of the mountains, the town of Greenville in central Maine is expecting a wind chill of minus-62.6 degrees. Berlin in northern New Hampshire could get down to minus-53 degrees. Saranac Lake in northern New York may dip to minus-49.3 degrees.

Caribou in northern Maine is forecast to see a wind chill of minus-54 degrees, close to a record of minus-58.6 degrees. Montpelier, Vt., is slated to snag a wind chill of minus-41 degrees, compared to its record low of minus-52.3 in 1981. Boston is expecting a minimum wind chill of minus-31 degrees. The record there is minus-38.6 degrees, set in 1957.

We built a fake metropolis to show how extreme cold could wreck cities

Roaring winds

This shot of cold is made much worse by strong winds. Winds will peak in most spots Friday night into Saturday, with sustained levels of 20 to 35 mph common, and perhaps as high as hurricane force sustained in the mountains of northern New England.

Blizzard warnings have been issued for northern Maine, where winds are expected to gust around 45 to 55 mph. While there won’t be a lot of new snow, squalls may cause temporary whiteouts from falling flakes. There’s also a lot of snow on the ground waiting to be blown around and drop visibility.

Winds gusting 40 mph or higher should visit most spots north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut may also get gusts as high as 50 mph. New England mountain ranges will see gusts approaching or surpassing 100 mph.

A taste of the stratosphere

In addition to the potential for minus-100 degree wind chills, Mount Washington might find itself in the stratosphere Friday night as a lobe of the polar vortex barrels southward. The atmosphere becomes more compressed as it cools, meaning that the boundary dividing its two lowest layers, the troposphere and the stratosphere, known as the tropopause, will sink in altitude.

“An unusual phenomena for our area is possible [Friday] night, with guidance indicating that the tropopause could dip below the peak of Mount Washington,” wrote the Weather Service office in Gray, Maine. “While extremely rare, the impact of this is that winds are likely to increase [as it passes].”

Intrepid observers on the summit might even smell the ozone layer, as it sits low in the stratosphere.

Quickly in and quickly out

Almost as fast as this Arctic outbreak arrives, it disappears.

Lobes of the polar vortex tend to move swiftly. And in this case, it will be gone within about 36 hours.

But historically cold air is expected in the meantime. Numerous record cold high temperatures are forecast in the Northeast on Friday and Saturday, along with several record lows Saturday morning:

  • Boston is set to fall to minus-6 degrees Saturday morning, which would surpass its Feb. 4 record of minus-2 degrees.
  • New York City will fall close to record lows, with readings near 10 degrees.
  • Newcomb, in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, is forecast to fall to minus-25 degrees, topping its Feb. 4 record of minus-23 degrees.

January’s warmth was unprecedented in much of the Northeast

But moving into next week, temperatures some 10 to 15 degrees above normal are likely across much of the same area, a return to the milder-than-average weather that has prevailed much of the winter.