A very cold stretch is in store for the Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast through the end of January into early February (this will impact the Southeast–details discussed later in the article). Temperatures tonight into tomorrow morning will feel like 20 to 40 below zero for parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes (see Fig. 1). This cold will continue into the weekend for these regions and parts of the Northeast but the coldest air will arrive by mid to late next week.
As we head into mid week (the end of January), it appears the polar vortex (I know, you’re tired of hearing this since it is so freely tossed around via media) will drop into the Midwest & Great Lakes (see Fig. 2). This equatorial displacement of the polar vortex will allow temperatures to fall even further than what will be experienced tomorrow (Friday) into the weekend. Temperatures by mid next week will be 30 to 50 degrees below average (see Fig. 3). High temperatures for parts of the Northeast, Midwest and Great Lakes will not get above 0 from Wednesday through at least Friday and likely be 5 to 15 degrees below zero for highs. It is possible feels like temperatures will be close to 60 degrees below zero.
So why is this cold air moving into the lower-48? The answer is due to a stratospheric warming event that occurred a few weeks back. When a quick stratospheric warmup occurs, it can allow the polar vortex to weaken and thus get displaced from the North Pole; sometimes that displacement is farther south towards the North American continent. When the displacement is over the North American continent (which is this case this time), very frigid air can engulf parts of the lower-48. This will be the case next week and possible as we head into February due to the weakened state of the polar vortex.
It is not only locations of higher latitude that will get in on the cold weather. Parts of the Southeast will be very frigid too by the end of next week (see Fig. 4). Thursday and Friday may of next week may feature high temperatures below freezing for parts of Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina with lows in the teens (or possibly single digits for some locations).
It should be noted, temperatures of this magnitude are dangerous. Actions must be taken to ensure your pets are protected. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS OUTSIDE if cold weather is in the forecast for your area. If you have elderly neighbors, make sure they are okay. Protect the plumbing in and around your house and be VERY CAUTIOUS with space heaters.
Christopher Nunley is Meteorologist on Firsthand Weather, Lecturer in the Department of Geosciences at Mississippi State University (MSU), and a PhD Candidate (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) at MSU. He earned his M.S. in Applied Meteorology at MSU, was an Assistant Cross Country Coach and taught at the University of North Texas, and was a Broadcast Meteorologist at KTEN-TV (just north of Dallas, Texas). Christopher’s main focus lies within teaching and inspiring prospective meteorology students, atmospheric research to further our understanding of atmospheric processes, and forecasting and analyzing extreme weather events to help save lives!