Nearly 200 million Americans woke up Monday to temperatures below freezing, and even colder air could be on the way by this Valentine’s Day weekend.
“This first push of arctic air is bringing dangerous cold but is mostly confined across the northern tier of states,” says CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen. “This next round of cold air for this coming weekend looks even more intense and will dive south through much of the Plains into Texas and likely bring dozens of records.”
The early week cold air will be locked up across the northern half of the US, with high temperatures below freezing as far south as Oklahoma. Across northern Minnesota and much of Montana and North Dakota, highs will struggle to climb past zero.
The polar vortex is to blame. This feature that’s normally centered over the North Pole has recently weakened, helping to displace very cold air into the US.
“Latest model guidance continues to show that an arctic air mass will dominate the northern and central portions of the country into this weekend under the influence of a slow-moving polar vortex centered over the Canadian prairies,” the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center (WPC) says.
“Wind chill values well below zero and as low as (minus) 50 degrees could be experienced at times” from Montana through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, says the WPC.
Wind chill alerts are in effect early Monday afternoon for more than 5 million people. In some cases, that’s so cold, frostbite can occur in just five minutes for those not properly dressed.
In Minneapolis, the high temperature Sunday only reached minus 3 degrees. The last time the high temperature was that cold was more than two years ago, in January 2019. Temperatures there rise back to the teens midweek before dropping again to around zero this weekend.
Fargo, North Dakota, is another city that hasn’t witnessed this kind of cold in years. The high yesterday was minus 8. It hasn’t been that cold since 2019, when the high was only 10 below. Highs should not be as low as this past weekend but will hover around the zero-degree mark this week.
Meanwhile, across the Southern states, temperatures will be above average, and in some cases, up to 20 degrees above the normal temperature for this time of year through Wednesday or Thursday.
But that will change as the week progresses.
Cold air will hit every continental US state
The cold air will gradually expand southward. By the weekend, every state in the Lower 48 should experience below-average temperatures. The only area that may still be on the warmer side of normal is South Florida.
A very slow-moving cold front draped across the Southern Plains will serve as the boundary between high temperatures in the 30s and 40s across North Texas and 70s and 80s across central and southern Texas through mid-week.
On Wednesday, Dallas has a forecast high in the mid-40s, while Austin should be in the mid-70s. That’s about a 30-degree temperature difference in just over 200 miles.
The second half of this week will feature temperatures topping off below zero in the northern Plains. Teens and 20s are forecast from the interior Northwest through the central Plains, Midwest and into the interior Northeast, with the 40s and 50s expected in the South and Southeast.
In some cases, these high temperatures could break records for cold.
Low temperatures will be even lower, with every state in the contiguous US except Florida forecast to drop below freezing.
Within the next seven days, 40 million people could experience temperatures sub-zero.
During Valentine’s Day weekend, another blast of dangerously cold air is expected to arrive.
The coldest air relative to normal may be in the south-central US.
“Some areas in the Plains and in Texas could be 40 degrees or more below average. Highs which are normally above freezing for this time of year will see highs in the single digits,” says Hennen.
The Midwest and Northeast will also likely deal with the cold. The lowest temperatures of the next seven days may not come until the weekend.
In New York City, the coldest temperature so far this winter was 14 degrees, recorded in late January. In the next seven to 10 days, it may get even colder than that, with lows potentially in the single digits.
In Chicago, highs are projected to only be in the single digits. This hasn’t happened since January 2019, when it was 1 degree.
The long-range forecast suggests that the cold will continue to dominate the weather pattern across the US next week.
“Unfortunately, these below-average temperatures don’t appear to moderate or exit in the foreseeable future,” the WPC said.