How bad can the polar vortex get?
The short answer is: pretty bad. The long answer is best seen in the preparations that communities across the nation are taking to get ready for an arctic cold blast that could set records in a half-dozen cities, including Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit.
Authorities and citizens alike in more than two dozen states are bracing for trouble – and taking some extreme steps to avoid tragedy. Even President Trump has weighed in and pleaded for “Global Waming” to come in and bring some warmth to the “beautiful Midwest” and its declining temperatures.
The vortex’s most chilling effects likely won’t be felt until early Wednesday morning. But here’s what’s forecast and what’s already happening around the country:
• Wind chills could dip to negative 55 degrees in northern Illinois, which the National Weather Service calls “possibly life threatening.” Officials have issued a travel alert for north-central and eastern North Dakota due to snow and blowing snow, while no travel is advised in the south-central part of the state due to freezing rain and snow.
• For only the fourth time in its 85-year history, Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo will be closed in order to protect employees and animals. Zoo officials say they hope to re-open on Friday. The city’s Lincoln Park Zoo will also be closed amid what might be the coldest day in Chicago history – 27 degrees below zero.
“To ensure the safety of our animals and staff, the zoo will only have a skeleton crew on site who will provide basic core functions,” said Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages the Brookfield Zoo.
The zoo has only closed due to snow one other time, in 2011. The other two closures were because of flooding. And the Chicago zoos are not alone: the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, S.D., is closed until Thursday morning.
• In Michigan, heavy snow has already led to the closure of state government, including the Capitol building and legislative offices. Hundreds of schools throughout the state were closed Monday.
• Heavy snow and gusting winds have already created blizzard-like conditions in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other Midwestern states where officials have closed schools, courthouses and businesses for most of the week ahead.
• Minneapolis animal control officers have issued stern warnings to pet owners, saying that any animals left in vehicles during the cold snap will be taken into “protective custody.”
“That could mean that we break your window to get your dog out,” Caroline Hairfield, director of Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, told MPRnews. “So, don’t put yourself in that position, because we’re going to do what we have to do to protect the animal.”
• The St. Paul Winter Carnival, the annual celebration of winter in Minnesota, canceled its kick-off parade on Thursday due to cold weather.
• Some counties in Wisconsin have set up warming shelters for daytime use, asking visitors to bring their own food and water, medication and games.
• In Atlanta, a winter storm is forecast to dump 1-2 inches of snow on Tuesday, just five days before Super Bowl LIII. In a city known for grinding to a halt even in relatively light snowfalls, including the infamous “snow jam” of 2014, Tuesday’s forecast might spell trouble.
The potential for black ice is “the overriding concern,” said Homer Bryson of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency. Five years ago, on Jan. 28. 2014, thousands of cars, trucks and school buses were marooned in snow and ice around the city for hours. Given the influx of massive tourists for Super Bowl weekend, there’s some cause for worry that this could create a perfect storm of trouble for the city.
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