Deadly polar vortex bringing cold air to Midwest — live updates

By Peter Martinez, Justin Carissimo

/ CBS News

Deadly polar vortex sweeping Midwest with wind chills as low as minus 65

The Midwest is bracing for a powerful polar vortex and people are feeling a blistering wind chill around Chicago. Schools are closed, hundreds of flights delayed or canceled and parts of the region could be colder than the Arctic Circle.

A polar vortex sweeping is bringing some of the coldest weather in a generation. The upper Midwest will face temperatures 40 degrees below normal with wind chills in the negative double digits.

Winter Storm Fast Facts

Is the polar vortex connected to climate change?

A counterintuitive theory about the polar vortex is gaining ground among some in the climate science community: Regional cold air outbreaks may be getting an "assist" from global warming. While it may not seem to make sense at first glance, scientifically it's consistent with the extremes expected from climate change.

Overall, Earth is warming due to climate change, but areas near the North Pole are warming more than 2 times faster than the rest of the globe. This "Arctic Amplification" is especially pronounced in winter.

When warm air invades the Arctic Circle, it weakens the polar vortex, displacing cold air masses southward into Europe, Asia and the United States. You might think of it as a once tight-knit circulation unraveling, slinging pieces of cold air outward.

What is the polar vortex?

NOAA

The frigid air will come from a brief visit by the polar vortex — which is a real meteorological phenomenon, not just a sensational headline. It's a whirling mass of cold air circulating in the mid- to upper-levels of the atmosphere, present every winter.

It usually stays closer to the poles but sometimes breaks apart, sending chunks of Arctic air southward into the U.S. during winter.

This week's particularly cold outbreak may be explained by the relative lack of cold air so far this winter in the eastern U.S. Instead of the cold air bleeding south a little at a time, it's coming all at once.

Chicago residents seek shelter in underground walkway system

Some Chicago residents are seeking refuge from the blistering cold in the city's underground walkway system. CBS Chicago spoke with two men finding warmth there before sub-zero temperatures hit the city.

Steven Garron sells StreetWise magazines to pay his rent in Dolton, but Marine veteran Joshua Stockwell doesn't have a place to live, so he sleeps on the CTA trains at night. "I hope and pray the K9 unit don't kick me off the train," he said.

With temperatures that could hit 23 below zero overnight, Stockwell knows it might not be warm enough even on the train. Stockwell said shelters won't accept him or his service dog, who helps him with seizures and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I don't know what else to do," Stockwell said.

Garron said he lives in southwest suburban Dolton, and takes two buses downtown so he can sell magazines on the Pedway to be able to pay rent.

"I just got to do it, because I need my rent money. I'd rather have the rent money than to be outside, homeless," he said. But he won't be taking that bus trip on Wednesday, when temperatures might not get above 14 below zero.

First published on January 29, 2019

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