By Jennifer Gray, CNN meteorologist
It’s winter, which means we expect cold temperatures for the northern tier of the country.
But the type of cold expected this week will be the coldest air of the season by far, and will even reach some big cities in the Northeast and New England.
It’s the kind of cold capable of delivering frostbite in minutes, turn boiling water into frozen mist in a nanosecond, and even cold enough to freeze your eyelashes.
New York City and Boston will both be in the deep freeze this week, flirting with “feels like” temperatures around zero or below.
“Feels like” refers to how temperature and wind work together to make it feel colder than it would be with no wind, also known as wind chill.
As the wind increases, it draws heat from the body, driving down skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. Therefore, the wind makes it “feel” much colder.
For example, across the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains, where temperatures have dropped to dangerously cold levels, in some areas morning air temperatures were 5 to 15 degrees below zero, but with the wind chill, it felt like it was 35 to 45 degrees below zero.
If you’re a weather geek, you’ll enjoy this tweet from the National Weather Service (NWS), which shows what happens on the radar when the ground temperature gets as cold as the cloud tops.
Temperatures in Minnesota were as cold as 31 degrees below zero Monday morning.
Over 185 million people, or more than half of the US population, were below freezing Monday morning, with nearly 10 million below zero, said CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen.
A strong cold front with a chilling blast of Arctic air is responsible for the extreme cold.
“Though wind chill values are dangerously cold in the upper Midwest this [Monday] morning, the rarity of the temperatures forecast for New York and Boston should be noted,” said CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. “With a forecast high of only 20 F degrees on Tuesday, Central Park will fall some 20 degrees below its climatological norm of 40 F for this time of year.”
In fact, wind chill warnings and advisories spanned 12 states Monday, from Montana to Maine.
Across the summit peaks in Vermont in New Hampshire, “feels like” temperatures could bottom out as low as minus 60.
“Temperatures this cold can lead to frostbite on exposed skin in as little as ten minutes,” cautioned the Weather Prediction Center (WPC).
New York City won’t be quite that cold, but still extreme, with “feels like” temperatures dropping below zero Tuesday morning, a rare event for the Big Apple.
“With temperatures sitting below freezing for 72 hours, and a good 10 to 20 degrees below normal for 48 hours, potential for poorly insulated water pipes to freeze and related structural flooding issues,” warned the NWS in New York City.
Boston will also be in the Arctic air mass, with bitter cold arriving tonight, as temperatures drop into the single digits.
“Wind chill values will feel even colder given the gusty winds,” says the NWS Boston. “A Wind Chill Advisory remains in effect, starting early Tuesday morning for wind chill values less than -15 F.”
Tuesday’s forecast high is only 12 degrees, which has only occurred nine times since 1986, according to Javaheri.
Boston Public Schools are closed Tuesday due to the frigid temperatures and dangerous wind chill.
As meteorologists, we always hear “Oh, so where’s your global warming now?”
Honestly, it’s becoming less common the more people become educated on climate change, but there’s always someone who will troll us on social media and bring it up.
So before the tweets begin, here’s your answer.
“Even in a warming climate, there will still be some cold extremes, or periods of intense and even record-breaking cold at times,” explained CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. “Look no further than last year, when a massive cold-air outbreak in the central and southern portions of the US caused power outages for millions and resulted in the costliest winter storm in US history.”
While the cold spell will be significant, it will be fairly short-lived and confined to one or two regions of the country.
“Compare that to last month, which saw several weeks worth of record-shattering warmth over more than half of the country, which helped to spawn deadly severe weather which was unprecedented in December,” said Miller.
He also adds, “But cold extremes are becoming far fewer, especially compared to hot extremes, which are outpacing them by two or three to one over the recent decade.”
The cold and wind are bringing impressive lake effect snow
Bitter cold and strong winds are triggering some pretty incredible lake effect snow bands.
The NWS office in Binghamton has issued a lake effect snow warning for snow totaling ten to 20 inches of snow. Winds there are gusting up to 40 mph, resulting in wind chill values as low as 30 degrees below zero.
The snow bands are traveling as far as northeastern Connecticut, more than 200 miles away.
The Great Lakes are currently only about seven percent frozen, keeping the lake-effect snow machine going.
Usually the lakes hit their peak for percentage frozen by late February or early March. Lake effect snow will typically slow in February.
Washington State facing more rain and snow
Washington state has been the bullseye for one extreme weather event after another for the last several weeks.
A series of atmospheric rivers has left the state buried under historic amounts of snow, and unprecedented flooding.
The snow closed several mountain late last week, and flooding temporarily closed parts of I-5 in both directions, and even forced an entire town to be evacuated.
The Washington State Department of Transportation announced Monday afternoon that it will be reopening US 12-White Pass. Once White Pass is reopened, that will mean three of the four Cascade Range passes closed last week will be opened after winter weather led to the closures.
Snoqualmie and Blewett passes reopened Sunday night. Stevens Pass will likely not open before Wednesday, according to the state DOT.
The Snoqualmie, Stevens, White and Blewett passes are major routes that connect the western and eastern parts of the state.
The Skokomish River, which rose quickly and forced residents of the Skokomish Valley to evacuate, could rise again by midweek, with the next round of rain.
“Atmospheric river moving into Western Washington tonight and stalling over the area until Wednesday,” said the NWS office in Seattle.
Rainfall totals for tonight through Wednesday in the Olympic Mountains will be in the five to ten inch range and the North Cascades could get three to five inches of rain.
“Excessive runoff may result in flooding of rivers, creeks, streams, and other low-lying and flood-prone locations,” the NWS Seattle added.
According to Washington Department of Transportation, “There is continued danger of avalanche in rare paths and multiple 30-35 ft. tall slides over the roadway (along US 2 east of Seattle). It is unlikely Stevens Pass will reopen before Wednesday, Jan. 12th.”
Weather disasters cost $145 billion last year as price of climate crisis soars ‘off the charts’
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It’s two fewer billion-dollar disasters than 2020, the record year, but the data show 2021’s disasters were deadlier and more costly.
The total cost of the disasters was $145 billion, which is $43 billion more than last year. From 2011 to 2021, such disasters have cost the US $1 trillion.
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Watch to find out why we are seeing more extreme weather than ever before.
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Haley Brink, Rachel Ramirez, John Keefe, Priya Krishnakumar and Joe Sutton contributed to this weather column