Chicago Will Be Colder Than Parts of Antarctica This Week

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chicago is preparing for life-threatening cold temperatures this week as a polar vortex grips the Midwest. Temperatures are expected to stay below -13°F all through Wednesday, January 30, making the Windy City colder than the South Pole in Antarctica, which will see highs of -4°F that same day, CBS Chicago reports.

The Midwest is known for its brutal winters, but the first month of 2019 is already shaping up to be one of the coldest months in the region's history. On Wednesday, thermometers could read as low as -20°F, which would be a record low temperature for January 30 in Chicago. It's also in the running to be the second-coldest day ever for the city, coming behind January 20, 1985, which brought lows of -27°F.

Wind chill will make the historic temperatures even more extreme. Gusts could potentially make it feel as cold -50°F outside, prompting safety officials to put a wind chill advisory into effect early Tuesday morning. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the advisory will be upgraded to a wind chill warning which will last until noon on Thursday. The Chicago public school system has already canceled all classes for January 30, and in Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers has declared a state of emergency.

This week's weather isn't just cold by Midwest standards. Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska; Oslo, Norway; and even parts of Siberia and the Yukon are all expected to see high temperatures above that of Chicago's on January 30.

[h/t CBS Chicago]

Storm Leaves Homes Along Lake Erie Covered in Up To Three Feet of Ice

Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
John Normile/Getty Images

This past weekend, lakeside residents of Hamburg, New York, awoke to find their neighborhood transformed into a full-scale replica of Frozen’s ice-covered kingdom, Arendelle.

According to CNN, gale force winds produced giant waves that sprayed the houses along Lake Erie with sheets of water for two days straight, covering them in layers of ice up to three feet thick.

“It looks fake, it looks surreal,” Hamburg resident Ed Mis told CNN. “It’s dark on the inside of my house. It can be a little eerie, a little frightening.”

While the homeowners are anxious for the ice to melt, they’re also concerned about what could happen when it does.

“We’re worried about the integrity, of structure failure when it starts to melt, because of the weight on the roof,” Mis said.

He added that this is the worst ice coating he’s seen since he moved to the area eight years ago—but it’s not because they’ve had a particularly harsh winter. In fact, just the opposite is true. According to The Detroit News, warm winter temperatures have caused ice cover on the Great Lakes to drop from 67 percent in 2019 to less than 20 percent this year.

“Lake Erie typically has significant ice cover by this time of the year, and that protects the shoreline from these battering storms,” The Weather Channel’s winter weather expert Tom Niziol explained in a video.

The phenomenon has created another unforeseen issue for Hamburg’s coast, too: Tourism. The local police department posted a message on Facebook on Sunday, March 1, asking people to keep off both the “extremely unsafe and unstable” ice and people's private property.

[h/t CNN]

What is Lake-Effect Snow?

Tainar/iStock via Getty Images
Tainar/iStock via Getty Images

As you probably guessed, you need a lake to experience lake-effect snow. The primary factor in creating lake-effect snow is a temperature difference between the lake and the air above it. Because water has a high specific heat, it warms and cools much more slowly than the air around it. All summer, the sun heats the lake, which stays warm deep into autumn. When air temperatures dip, we get the necessary temperature difference for lake-effect snow.

As the cool air passes over the lake, moisture from the water evaporates and the air directly above the surface heats up. This warm, wet air rises and condenses, quickly forming heavy clouds. The rate of change in temperature as you move up through the air is known as the "lapse rate"; the greater the lapse rate, the more unstable a system is—and the more prone it is to create weather events.

Encountering the shore only exacerbates the situation. Increased friction causes the wind to slow down and clouds to "pile up" while hills and variable topography push air up even more dramatically, causing more cooling and more condensation.

The other major factors that determine the particulars of a lake-effect snowstorm are the orientation of the wind and the specific lake. Winds blowing along the length of a lake create greater "fetch," the area of water over which the wind blows, and thus more extreme storms like the one currently pummeling the Buffalo area. The constraints of the lake itself create stark boundaries between heavy snow and just a few flurries and literal walls of snow that advance onto the shore. The southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes are considered "snow belts" because, with winds prevailing from the northwest, these areas tend to get hit the hardest.

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