‘Polar vortex’ pushes freezing weather across U.S.; U.K. hit by gales

AP

The coldest, most dangerous blast of polar air in decades gripped the U.S. Midwest and pushed toward the East and South and eastern Canada on Monday, closing schools, grounding flights and forcing people to pull their hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite.

The bitter weather comes after a heavy snowstorm hit much of the region last week. Officials closed schools in Chicago and other Midwest cities and warned residents to stay indoors.

Nearly 3,200 flights — one out of every 10 domestic departures — were canceled Monday morning, following a weekend of travel disruption across the U.S. Airline officials said de-icing fluid was freezing, fuel was pumping sluggishly, and ramp workers were having difficulty loading and unloading luggage.

“It’s just a dangerous cold,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye.

The forecast is extreme: -35 C in North Dakota, and -26 C in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills — what it feels like when high winds are factored into the temperature — could drop to -45 to -51 C.

In New York City, the temperature was expected to drop sharply from about 11 C to about -12 C overnight Monday as the arctic air moved in.

In Newfoundland, about 5,000 customers remained without power because of rolling blackouts in recent days, but Premier Kathy Dunderdale said it was not a crisis and government services were still operating.

It hasn’t been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the region. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in within minutes.

“I have seen frostbite occur through clothing,” said Douglas Brunette, an emergency room doctor in Minneapolis. “It’s not enough just to be covered. You need clothes made for the elements. You need to repel the wind.”

The Indianapolis mayor upgraded the city’s travel emergency level to “red,” making it illegal for anyone to drive except for emergencies or seeking shelter. The last time the city issued such a travel warning was 1978.

Elnur Toktombetov, a Chicago taxi driver, said that an hour into his shift, his Toyota’s windows were still coated with ice on the inside

Many cities came to a virtual standstill. School was called off Monday for the state of Minnesota. Government offices and courts in several states closed.

Southern states were bracing for possible record cold temperatures, too. With two freezing nights ahead, Louisiana citrus farmers could lose any fruit they cannot pick in time.

Across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, waves up to 8.2 meters high slammed into Britain’s southwestern coast on Monday as lashing winds and heavy rain battered parts of the U.K. and coastal residents braced for another round of flooding.

The monster waves were recorded at Land’s End, the southwestern tip of the U.K.

In Aberystwyth in Wales, seafront homes, businesses and student residence halls were evacuated as high tides hit the coast.

The Met Office, Britain’s weather forecasting body, warned of wind gusts up to 113 kph and exceptionally large waves along the coasts of Wales, southwest England and Northern Ireland.

It said the storm is loosely connected to the weather system that caused the U.S. winter storm.

“A very strong jet stream helped to steer a lot of low-pressure across the U.K.,” said forecaster Charles Powell.

At least seven people have died in a wave of stormy weather that has battered Britain since December, including a man killed when his mobility scooter fell into a river in Oxford, southern England.

The Environment Agency issued three severe flood warnings Monday — meaning there is a threat to life and property — for the county of Dorset in southwestern England, as well as more than 300 less serious flood alerts.