January–February 2019 North American cold wave

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January-February 2019 North American cold wave
Surface temperatures from January 24 to 29, 2019
TypeCold wave
FormedJanuary 24, 2019 (2019-01-24)
Fatalities22[1][2]
Areas affectedEastern Canada
Central United States
Eastern United States
Pacific Northwest
Western Canada
Part of the 2018–19 North American winter

In late January 2019, a severe cold wave caused by a weakened jet stream around the Arctic polar vortex[3] hit the Midwestern United States and Eastern Canada, killing at least 22 people.[1][2] It came after a winter storm brought up to 13 inches (33 cm) of snow in some regions from January 27–29.[1][4] As of February 2, the polar vortex was moving west[5], and is now affecting Western Canada and the Western United States.[6]

Meteorology[edit]

The polar vortex as captured by the Atmospheric infrared sounder

Normally, the Northern Hemisphere jet stream travels fast enough to keep the polar vortex stationary in the stratosphere over the North Pole. In late January 2019, a weakening of the jet stream split the polar vortex in two, with one formation traveling southward and stalling over central Canada and north-central United States for about a week before the upper-level flow of the atmosphere directed it over to Western Canada.[6] The influx of frigid air from the North Pole created high winds, and brought extreme sub-zero temperatures, further exacerbated by severe wind chill. Large amounts of snow fell in the affected area. Some have attributed the unusual weather pattern to climate change.[7]

Canada[edit]

The polar vortex split into three parts, with the dominant part setting up over the Great Lakes and Nunavut. This gave prairie Canada and northern Ontario a persistent northern flow, leading to record cold temperatures.[8]

Alberta[edit]

On February 3, Calgary recorded a temperature of −27.7 °C (−17.9 °F) and a wind chill of −39 °C (−38 °F).[9] On February 5, the city dropped to −28.9 °C (−20.0 °F) and a wind chill of −36 °C (−33 °F).[10]

On February 5, Edmonton recorded a temperature of −32.3 °C (−26.1 °F) and a wind chill of −37 °C (−35 °F),[11] as a result of the polar vortex making its way west.[12][13]

British Columbia[edit]

On February 4, the temperature in Richmond dropped to −5.6 °C (21.9 °F) with a wind chill of −11 °C (12 °F).[14]

On the same day, the temperature in Abbotsford dropped to −9 °C (16 °F) with a wind chill of −20 °C (−4 °F).[15]

Again on the same day, the daily high in downtown Victoria was at −0.9 °C (30.4 °F)[16], the first time the daily high was below 0 since January 2017.[17] The next day, on February 5, the city's temperature dropped to −7 °C (19 °F) with a wind chill of −9 °C (16 °F).[18]

Prince George dropped to as low as −36.2 °C (−33.2 °F) with a wind chill of −43 °C (−45 °F) on February 4.[19] On February 11 the city recorded a temperature of −32.7 °C (−26.9 °F) with a wind chill of −39 °C (−38 °F).[20]

Vancouver recorded a temperature of −4.3 °C (24.3 °F) on February 5.[21] On February 11 the city surpassed this, dropping to −4.4 °C (24.1 °F).[22]

On February 5, Kelowna dropped to −20.3 °C (−4.5 °F) with a wind chill of −24 °C (−11 °F).[23] The next day, on February 6, the wind chill dropped to as low as −26 °C (−15 °F).[24] On February 10 the temperature in the city dropped to −20.8 °C (−5.4 °F) with a wind chill of −27 °C (−17 °F).[25]

Temperatures reached −20.7 °C (−5.3 °F) in Ashcroft on February 5, the coldest temperature recorded in February since record keeping began in 2010. This record was broken again on the 10th when it reached −21.7 °C (−7.1 °F).[26]

On February 6, the temperature in Nanaimo dropped to −6.7 °C (19.9 °F) and a wind chill of −9 °C (16 °F).[27]

Manitoba[edit]

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, temperatures reached as low as −40 °C (−40 °F),[28] the coldest temperature recorded in the city since February 2007, when it reached −42 °C (−44 °F).[29]

Northwest Territories[edit]

On February 2, the temperature in Yellowknife dropped to −43 °C (−45 °F) and a wind chill of −53 °C (−63 °F).[30]

Nunavut[edit]

Environment Canada issued extreme cold warnings for most of Nunavut.[31] The temperature in Baker Lake dropped to a frigid −41 °C (−42 °F) with a wind chill of −59 °C (−74 °F), its lowest recorded wind chill on record.[32] On January 25th, Shepherd Bay recorded −48.8 °C (−55.8 °F).[33]

Ontario[edit]

Toronto snowstorm

Ottawa experienced its snowiest January on record with temperatures as low as −25 °C (−13 °F).[34] Toronto experienced the largest snowstorm in six years with 33 centimetres (13 in) of snow accumulating at Toronto Pearson International Airport, before dropping to a low of −22.8 °C (−9.0 °F), with a wind chill of −38 °C (−36 °F).[35] Many local schools and universities cancelled classes due to the weather. At Niagara Falls, the falls were left partially frozen by the extreme temperatures.[36][37]

On January 31, Windsor reached −27.0 °C (−16.6 °F) with a wind chill of −40 °C (−40 °F). Warming centres were set up in Windsor and Chatham-Kent libraries for homeless people and anyone else affected by the cold.[38] On the same day, London dropped to −26 °C (−15 °F) with a wind chill of −39 °C (−38 °F). Temperatures in St. Catharines dropped to −20 °C (−4 °F).[39] with a wind chill of −35 °C (−31 °F),[40] while Port Colborne fell to −18 °C (0 °F)[41] with a wind chill of −31 °C (−24 °F).[42]

Quebec[edit]

January 25, 2019 in Quebec

The cold snap in Montreal began with a blizzard where base temperatures reached −15 °C (5 °F). The combination with a single-day 25 centimetres (10 in) snowfall was the coldest snowiest day in nearly a century.[43] The Fête des neiges winter festival was cancelled due to the extreme cold for the first time in a decade.[44]

Among those killed by the cold was Hélène Rowley Hotte, the 93-year-old mother of Gilles Duceppe, a former federal opposition leader. She was found outside her seniors' residence after being accidentally locked out following a fire alarm.[45]

Saskatchewan[edit]

In Saskatoon temperatures plummeted to as low as −42.6 °C (−44.7 °F) with a frigid wind chill of −52 °C (−62 °F) on February 6.[46]

On February 8, temperatures dropped to −42 °C (−44 °F) and a wind chill of −47 °C (−53 °F) in Regina.[47]

United States[edit]

California[edit]

On February 3, Eureka experienced, for the first time since 1989, the temperature neither reaching nor exceeding 50 °F (10 °C). The next day, on February 4, the temperature dropped to 34 °F (1 °C), and the city experienced the coldest February 4 in 30 years since 1989, and the first time since then that the temperature did not exceed 48 °F (9 °C). On February 5, the temperature dropped to 29 °F (−2 °C), also the coldest recorded for that date since 1989. On February 6, the minimum was 36 °F (2 °C), the coldest temperature recorded for that date since 2005.[48]

District of Columbia[edit]

In the early morning of January 31, 2019, Washington, D.C., as measured at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, reached 10 °F (−12 °C).[49] The wind chill reached −3 °F (−19 °C).[49] Nearby Washington Dulles International Airport reached an air temperature of −2 °F (−19 °C),[49] the coldest reading since another cold spell in February 2015.[50]

Georgia[edit]

On January 30, Atlanta received a wind chill of 18 °F (−8 °C).[51]

Illinois[edit]

'Chicago Beach Keeps Locals Warm During Polar Vortex' - video new report from Voice of America.
The Chicago River during the polar vortex

In the Chicago area, temperatures plummeted as low as −23 °F (−31 °C) at O'Hare International Airport on January 30, with a windchill of −52 °F (−47 °C). Chicago's Northerly Island recorded temperatures as low as −21 °F (−29 °C) and Chicago's Midway International Airport recorded a temperature of −22 °F (−30 °C); O'Hare's maximum of −10 °F (−23 °C) that day was a daily record and also only 1 °F (0.56 °C) higher than Chicago's official record cold maximum set on January 18, 1994 and December 24, 1983.[52] Chicago also reached record lows on January 31, with a temperature of −21 °F (−29 °C) and a windchill of −41 °F (−41 °C).[53]

Rockford reached an all-time record low of −31 °F (−35 °C), shattering the old record of −27 °F (−33 °C) from 1982. Moline in the Quad Cities reached an all-time record low of −33 °F (−36 °C). In Mount Carroll, a temperature of −38 °F (−39 °C) was recorded on January 30. If verified, this would be the all-time lowest temperature in the state of Illinois.[54]

Several people died in Chicago due to the cold.[55]

Indiana[edit]

Temperatures in Indianapolis plummeted as low as −11 °F (−24 °C) on January 30, tying the record low, with a wind chill of −41 °F (−41 °C).[56] Kokomo recorded a wind chill of −49 °F (−45 °C)[56] while Evansville recorded wind chills as low as −19 °F (−28 °C).[57]

Hundreds of schools and businesses closed and the United States Postal Service suspended delivery service on Wednesday, January 30 and Thursday, January 31.[58]

Temperatures in South Bend plummeted as low as −20 °F (−29 °C),[59] and classes at the University of Notre Dame were cancelled. Other major universities in the state, such as Indiana University, Purdue University and Ball State University, also cancelled classes.[60]

Iowa[edit]

University of Iowa student Gerald Belz died after being found unresponsive near Halsey Hall.[61]

Kentucky[edit]

After windchill temperatures were predicted to plunge to between 10 °F (−12 °C) to 20 °F (−7 °C), many Kentucky schools closed.[62] [63]

Two brothers in Boone County, Obie (72) and Roy Fugate (67), died in their driveway outside of their home due to the cold after their truck was stuck in the mud.[64]

Michigan[edit]

On January 28, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency due to the record low windchill temperatures.[65] Three people died due to the extremely low temperatures in Michigan: one in Detroit, another in Ecorse, and a third in East Lansing.[66][67]

On January 31, the city of Flint recorded a low temperature of −14 °F (−26 °C), breaking the record for that date of −8 °F (−22 °C), set in 1963. The previous day's maximum temperature of 2 °F (−17 °C) broke the record cold maximum of 8 °F (−13 °C) set in 1951.[68] In Metro Detroit on January 31, temperatures were between −5 °F (−21 °C) to −15 °F (−26 °C) with windchill values between −20 °F (−29 °C) and −40 °F (−40 °C).[69] The community named Hell in Livingston County was declared to be frozen over on January 31.[70]

Whitmer and Consumers Energy asked residents to turn down their thermostats to 65 °F (18 °C) until midnight ET on February 1, after a fire at the compressor station in Macomb County on January 30 due to extra gas usage during the cold wave, to avoid "heat interruptions".[71][72]

The United States Postal Service suspended mail delivery on January 30 and 31 for most of Michigan.[73]

Hundreds of Michigan schools and businesses were closed for the entire week.[74]

Minnesota[edit]

The town of Cotton (near Duluth) was the coldest location in the country with a low of −56 °F (−49 °C) on January 30, 4 degrees shy of the all-time state record low in Minnesota.[75] The coldest wind chill was −66 °F (−54 °C) recorded at Ponsford.[76]

On January 30, Minneapolis recorded a minimum temperature of −28 °F (−33 °C)[77] with a windchill of −49 °F (−45 °C), the coldest since 1996.[53]

On January 29, at 10:30 p.m., about 150 homes in the Princeton area, about an hour north of Minneapolis, lost natural gas service. As a result Xcel Energy resorted to asking over 400,000 customers to turn their thermostats down to 63 degrees to conserve natural gas through Thursday.[78]

New York[edit]

In New York City, the temperature on January 31 reached 2 °F (−17 °C) with a windchill of −17 °F (−27 °C).[53]

In Williamsville (near Buffalo), a locally well-known homeless man, Lawrence "Larry" Bierl, was found frozen to death in a bus shelter on the morning of January 31.[79] The wind chill that previous night was −25 °F (−32 °C).[80]

Following a January 27 electrical fire at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, over 1,600 inmates were held with little or no heat or electricity until power was restored on February 3.[81] Numerous inmates reported ill health and were seen banging on windows for help. Activists and some New York officials became involved in seeking to improve conditions.[82][83] Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on February 4 that the United States Department of Justice would be investigating the outage.[84]

North Dakota[edit]

Grand Forks experienced a windchill value of −65 °F (−54 °C).[52]

Washington[edit]

A snowstorm on February 3–4 brought 0.5 to 4 inches (1.3 to 10.2 cm) of snow to parts of Western Washington, including the Puget Sound region, after a winter without measurable snowfall. It was caused by cold air arriving from the north alongside a low-pressure system, dropping temperatures to the 30s and 40s. The snowstorm caused minor disruptions, including school releases and flight cancellations at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.[85] Daytime temperatures continued to drop throughout the week, reaching as low as 19 °F (−7 °C) and causing black ice to form on roads.[86]

A second snowstorm struck the Seattle area and Western Washington on February 8, bringing 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) of snow that triggered a state of emergency from Governor Jay Inslee. The storm disrupted numerous services and caused shortages of supplies at grocery stores. At least one person died as a result of exposure.[87] The rare intensity of the snowstorm has been described as the strongest that Seattle had seen in over a decade and crippled the city.[88][89]

Wisconsin[edit]

On January 28, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared a state of emergency due to the record low windchill temperatures.[90]

A 55-year-old man froze to death in Milwaukee.[66]

Milwaukee reached record lows on January 31, with a temperature of −21 °F (−29 °C) and a windchill of −40 °F (−40 °C).[53]

Impact[edit]

At least 22 deaths in North America have been directly attributed to the cold wave, with several of these people frozen to death (hypothermia).[1]

Around 2,700 flights were canceled on January 30, with 2,000 canceled the next day.[53] Amtrak also canceled several trains.[91]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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