Frost bite in 5 minutes: Cold hard facts about the polar vortex that has hit the US

Men walk by a sign warning of falling ice in Chicago, USA, on Jan 29, 2019.
Men walk by a sign warning of falling ice in Chicago, USA, on Jan 29, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CAMBRIDGE (NYTIMES) - The polar vortex is bringing dangerously low temperatures to a wide swathe of the United States Midwest, forcing schools and universities to close and leading the governors of Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin to declare emergencies.

Here are some of the salient facts about this brutal cold front.

The Midwest will be colder than parts of Antarctica and Alaska

The high on Wednesday (Jan 30) in Des Moines, Iowa, will be a bitter -23 deg C. Wednesday's high at McMurdo Station in Antarctica will be a comparatively mild 8 deg C, according to

Fairbanks, Alaska, will also be warmer during the day on Wednesday than Des Moines, with a high of -15 deg C.

More than 50 million people will be affected

A large expanse, from the Dakotas to western Pennsylvania, are under wind chill warnings or advisories from the National Weather Service.

You could get frostbite in five minutes

With wind chills in Minneapolis-St Paul expected to be as low as -43 deg C to -54 deg C from Tuesday night through Thursday morning, the National Weather Service is warning people that any exposed skin could get frostbitten in as little as five minutes.

The last time Chicago faced temperatures this low was more than 30 years ago

The predicted low in Chicago on Wednesday night is -31 deg C. According to the National Weather Service, the last time it was that cold in Chicago was Jan 20, 1985, when Chicago set its low temperature record of -33 deg C. With the wind chill, it could feel like -48 deg C.

Thousands of flights are being cancelled

On Monday (Jan 28), 1,986 flights were cancelled across the country, including more than 1,400 that were supposed to fly into or out of Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, according to On Tuesday, as of late afternoon, more than 1,800 flights had been cancelled, including more than 500 into or out of Chicago. Around half of the flights into and out of Midway were canceled Tuesday.

Hundreds of schools are being closed

Detroit and Milwaukee closed all public schools on Tuesday. Minneapolis has closed schools on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Chicago Public Schools cancelled all after-school activities on Tuesday and all classes and activities on Wednesday. Many other public, private and parochial schools across the region have closed as well.

Hundreds of thousands of college students will be hunkering down

Many colleges across the Midwest have cancelled classes during the cold snap, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of South Dakota and Kent State University.