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US Midwest freeze could set records

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota--A deep freeze expected soon in the U.S. Midwest, northeastern New England states and even the South will be one to remember, with potential record-low temperatures heightening fears of frostbite and hypothermia.

It hasn't been this cold for decades — 20 years in Washington, D.C., 18 years in Milwaukee, 15 in Missouri — even in the Midwest, where bundling up is second nature. Weather Bell meteorologist Ryan Maue said, “If you're under 40 (years old), you've not seen this stuff before.”

Preceded by snow in much of the Midwest, the frigid air will begin Sunday and extend into early next week, funneled as far south as the Gulf Coast. Blame it on a “polar vortex,” as one meteorologist calls it, a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air.

“It's just a large area of very cold air that comes down, forms over the North Pole or polar regions ... usually stays in Canada, but this time it's going to come all the way into the eastern United States,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Phillip Schumacher in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The forecasts are startling: 25 below zero Fahrenheit (31 below zero Celsius) in Fargo, North Dakota, minus 31 F (minus 35 C) in International Falls, Minnesota, and 15 below F (26 below C) in Indianapolis and Chicago. At those temperatures, exposed skin can get frostbitten in minutes and hypothermia can quickly set in as wind chills may reach 50, 60 or even 70 below zero F (45.5, 51 or even 56.7 below zero C).

Already, parts of the northeastern New England states dropped into the negatives early Saturday, with East Brighton, Vermont, seeing 30 below zero F (34.4 below zero C) just after midnight and Allagash, Maine, hitting minus 36 F (minus 37.8 C). The cold will sweep through other parts of New England where residents are digging out from a snowstorm.

Snow will reduce the sun's heating effect, so nighttime lows will plummet because of the strong northwest winds, Maue said. Fresh powder is expected in parts of the central Midwest and South starting Saturday night — up to a foot (30 centimeters) in eastern Missouri and southern Michigan, 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) in central Illinois, 8 or more inches (20 or more centimeters) in western Kentucky and up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) in parts of middle Tennessee.

The South also will dip into temperatures rarely seen. By Monday morning, western and central Kentucky could be below zero F (minus 18 C) — “definitely record-breaking,” said weather service meteorologist Christine Wielgos in Paducah, Kentucky. And in Atlanta, Tuesday's high is expected to hover in the mid-20s F (around minus 4 Celsius).

The arctic chill will affect everything from sports to schools to flights. Mike Duell, with the flight-tracking website FlightAware.com, says to expect airport delays and flight cancellations because of the cold temperatures.

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