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January 6, 2014

Arctic blast headed our way

TARBORO — An arctic chill is in store for northeastern North Carolinians this week, with record-breaking low temperatures in the forecast.

“Record-breaking is fair to say,” said Jonathan Blaes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.

Today’s temperatures will be seasonable, with highs in the 50’s and rain moving out of the area by late morning. The weather will change drastically this evening, with a “very cold Arctic air mass” moving into the area, according to Blaes.

“Monday evening, they (temperatures) will crash and bottom out at about 9 degrees by daybreak Tuesday,” Blaes said. He said record low temperatures for the area for this time of year are consistently in the 13 to 16-degree range.

Temperatures will remain cold Tuesday, with a high of 26 degrees and clear skies.

“Temperatures are going to be subfreezing for about 48 hours and that’s very unusual for this part of the world (outside of the mountains),” Blaes said. “Truly record-breaking, remarkable stuff.”

This “polar vortex,” as one meteorologist calls it, is caused by a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air. The frigid air, piled up at the North Pole, will be pushed down to the U.S., funneling it as far south as the Gulf Coast.

Ryan Maue, of Tallahassee, Fla., a meteorologist for Weather Bell, said temperature records will likely be broken during the short yet forceful deep freeze that will began in many places on Sunday. That’s thanks to a perfect combination of the jet stream, cold surface temperatures and the polar vortex.

“All the ingredients are there for a near-record or historic cold outbreak,” Maue said “If you’re under 40 (years old), you’ve not seen this stuff before.”

The temperature predictions are startling: 25 below zero in Fargo, N.D., minus 31 in International Falls, Minn., and 15 below in Indianapolis and Chicago. At those temperatures, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes and hypothermia can quickly set in because wind chills could hit 50, 60 or even 70 below zero.

Minnesota called off school for Monday statewide, the first such closing in 17 years, because of projected highs in the minus teens and lows as cold as 30 below. Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., students also won’t be in class Monday. North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple urged superintendents to keep children’s safety in making the decision after the state forecast called for “life threatening wind chills” through Tuesday morning.

And though this cold spell will last just a few days as warmer air comes behind, it likely will freeze over the Great Lakes and other bodies of water, meaning frigid temperatures will likely last the rest of winter, Maue said.

“It raises the chances for future cold,” he said, adding it could include next month’s Super Bowl in New York.

Snow already on the ground and fresh powder expected in some places ahead of the cold air will reduce the sun’s heating effect, so nighttime lows will plummet thanks to strong northwest winds that will deliver the Arctic blast, Maue said. And there’s no warming effect from the Gulf to counteract the cold air, he said.

 “This one happens to be really big and it’s going to dive deep into the continental U.S. And all that cold air is going to come with it,” said Sally Johnson, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.

It’s relatively uncommon to have such frigid air blanket so much of the U.S., maybe once a decade or every couple of decades, Maue said. But in the long-run the deep temperature dives are less meaningful for comparison to other storms than daytime highs that are below-zero and long cold spells, he said.

Local and area residents should take precautions regarding the cold, such as keeping one’s faucets dripping so pipes won’t freeze, and keeping an eye on pets and elderly neighbors who are homebound, Blaes said.

“This cold is severe enough, it’s going to impact people,” he said.

The warm-up will begin Wednesday, with highs in the mid-30s. On Friday, temperatures will return to normal, with a high around 53 degrees.

According to a winter weather checklist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s important to have at least one of the following heat sources in case the electricity goes out: a fireplace with plenty of dry firewood or a gas log fireplace, portable space heaters or kerosene heaters, or extra blankets, sleeping bags and warm winter coats. Turning on  a gas stove as a source of heat is not safe.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)



 

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