x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

US faces big chill as polar cold front sweeps across

Temperatures predicted to fall to record lows as 'polar vortex' brings freezing weather that is already disrupting normal life.

Snow covers a deserted street in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the temperature dropped to -9 degrees Celsius on Monday morning as a blanket of freezing polar air swept over most of the United States.  Steve C Mitchell / EPA
Snow covers a deserted street in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the temperature dropped to -9 degrees Celsius on Monday morning as a blanket of freezing polar air swept over most of the United States. Steve C Mitchell / EPA

CHICAGO // The coldest air in almost 20 years is sweeping over the central United States towards the east coast, threatening to topple temperature records, ignite energy demand and damage Great Plains winter wheat.

Wind chills plunged past –45°C in parts of the midwest before dawn. Chicago’s high today will not reach zero and may just hit that tomorrow, according to the national weather service.

New York City, which had a predawn reading of 12°C, will drop to –14°C by tomorrow, while the temperature at Dallas’s Love Field was 16°C at 7am local time.

This week, cities from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh may have record lows.

“It’s really dangerous stuff,” said Richard Castro, a weather service meteorologist in Romeoville, Illinois. The lowest temperature in the contiguous US as of 7am eastern time was –38°C at Crane Lake, Minnesota, the US weather prediction centre said.

Hard-freeze warnings and watches, which are alerts for farmers, stretch from Texas to central Florida. Mike Musher, a meteorologist with the prediction centre in College Park, Maryland, said 90 per cent of the contiguous US would be at or below the freezing mark today.

“It definitely looks like one heck of a ‘polar pig’ shot,” said Kyle Cooper, director of research with IAF Advisors in Houston, using a term for a bulge of cold air out of Canada. “Models show it as quite intense and dropping down pretty far south.”

Tomorrow may be the coldest day of the 21st century for the contiguous US, beating January 16, 2009, said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland.

Freezing temperatures spur energy demand as people turn up thermostats to heat homes and businesses. Power generation accounts for 32 per cent of US natural-gas use. About 49 per cent of all homes use the fuel for heating.

“Everybody’s energy bills will be going up,” Mr Musher said. “I am sure there are going to be multiple records broken across a large part of the country.”

New York may break or tie daily cold records overnight, said Joey Picca, a weather service meteorologist in Upton, New York. The temperature in Central Park is expected to fall to -14°C degrees by tomorrow, which would tie the record for the day set in 1896.

As the temperatures plunge, there is a chance for flash freezing, he said. A flash freeze is when any remaining rain or melted snow is frozen quickly. Along with the cold, snow, rain and ice will persist in many high-population areas.

As of 9.35am in New York, 3,074 flights had been cancelled across the US, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking service. Freezing temperatures in New York may have contributed to a Delta Connection flight sliding into a snowbank at John F. Kennedy International Airport yesterday, shutting flight operations for two hours.

Chicago, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh may also set temperature records. The high in Chicago today was expected to be –31°C with a wind chill in the –37°C° to –45C region.

While temperatures crashed in much of the central and eastern US at the end of last week, this week’s cold will have a greater effect because most people are back to work after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, said Michael Schlacter of Weather 2000 Inc in New York.

* Bloomberg