WILMINGTON — Extreme cold and record-breaking temperatures are crawling into parts of the Midwest after a powerful snowstorm pounded the region, and forecasters warn that the frigid weather could be life-threatening.
A Wind Chill Warning for “dangerously cold wind chills” as low as 30 degrees below zero was issued by the National Weather Service in Wilmington for 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, with a Wind Chill Advisory issued for 7 p.m. Wednesday to 1 p.m. Thursday.
Wilmington College announced early Tuesday afternoon that its main campus would be closed on Wednesday, followed later in the afternoon by a similar announcement from Wilmington City Schools.
Hundreds of Michigan schools were closed Tuesday, including in Detroit, while Chicago Public Schools canceled Wednesday classes because of the anticipated cold snap.
“You’re talking about frostbite and hypothermia issues very quickly, like in a matter of minutes, maybe seconds,” said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center.
Subzero temperatures began Tuesday, but Wednesday is expected to be the worst. Wind chills in northern Illinois could fall to negative 55 degrees, which the National Weather Service called “possibly life threatening.”
The unusually frigid weather is attributed to a sudden warming far above the North Pole. A blast of warm air from misplaced Moroccan heat last month made the normally super chilly air temperatures above the North Pole rapidly increase. That split the polar vortex into pieces, which then started to wander, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for Atmospheric Environmental Research.
One of those polar vortex pieces is responsible for the subzero temperatures across the Midwest this week.
The governors in Michigan and Wisconsin have declared states of emergency ahead of the dangerously cold weather.
Cold weather advisories are in effect across a broad swath of the central U.S., from North Dakota to Missouri and spanning into Ohio. Temperatures will be as many as 20 degrees below average in parts of the Upper Great Lakes region and Upper Mississippi Valley, according to the National Weather Service.
On Monday, snowplow drivers had trouble keeping up with the snowfall in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where some areas got as much as 15 inches of snow. Chicago-area commuters woke up to heavy snowfall, with more than 5 inches already on the ground. In Michigan, nonessential government offices were closed, including the Capitol.
Rare snowfall was also forecast for some southern states.
Associated Press reporters Ivan Moreno in Milwaukee, Caryn Rousseau in Chicago, Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and David Runk in Detroit, and AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.