Record-breaking cold clobbers two-thirds of the U.S.

FILE PHOTO: Cars move along a snow-covered road in Denver, U.S., January 22, 2019 in this video grab obtained from social media video by Reuters January 28, 2019. Denver International Airport/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Two-thirds of the continental United States will be a frozen ice box Tuesday, as the so-called polar vortex of frigid arctic air spins across the U.S. Midwest, clips the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley and pushes on into New England.

And the sub-zero cold and bitter winds will stick around for a couple of days, possibly bringing dozens of record lows with a life-threatening freeze before dissipating by the weekend, the National Weather Service reported (NWS).

The polar vortex is a mass of freezing air that normally spins around the North Pole, but has slipped southward and swirled into the United States, forecasters said.

The hardest-hit area will be the Midwest, where wind chill could bring temperatures as low as -50 F (-46C) in the Chicago area by Tuesday evening, the NWS reported. One-to-two feet of snow was forecast in Wisconsin, and six inches in Illinois.

Even Alabama and Mississippi could see snow, the service added.

“This arctic air dumps out of Canada and will affect us for days,” said Richard Bann, a forecaster with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park Maryland.

“We’ll even get some snow this afternoon in the (Washington) D.C. area,” he said. “And because it’s so cold, there won’t be much of a warm-up Wednesday. You’ll have to wait for the weekend, before you see any higher temperatures.”

Blizzard conditions were predicted across parts of the western Ohio Valley and snow was expected through Wednesday from the Great Lakes region into New England.

States of emergency have been declared from Wisconsin and Michigan, down to Alabama and Mississippi.

In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker said wind chill could drive temperatures to -55 degrees Fahrenheit in northern parts of the state on Tuesday evening, a level that can cause frostbite in a matter of minutes.

“This is a potentially historic winter storm that will bring extreme cold to our state and all Illinoisans must prepare,” Pritzker said in a written statement released by his office.

Parts of north and central Georgia are expecting about 2 inches of snow or more in the coming days, along with freezing rain and ice-slicked highways. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp shut down government offices in 35 counties Tuesday, and schools across swaths of the state are also closed.

Air traffic in the region is affected, with more than 1,200 flights canceled and as many delayed, the flight tracking site reported early Tuesday.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc said it would waive flight change fees for passengers affected by the winter weather in Chicago, Detroit and areas of the Upper Midwest.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Maria Caspani and Gina Cherelus in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Seven Dead From Great Lakes Storm

At least seven people are confirmed dead from the massive snowstorm that slammed several Great Lakes states.

The storm has dumped massive amounts of snow on New York including six feet of snow on the Buffalo area.  A state of emergency exists for 10 counties in New York.

“This storm is an extraordinarily difficult situation, with snowfall that may break records. We are prepared, but we need residents to stay off the roads so that first responders can do their work and keep people safe,” New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said.

“Although the sun may be shining, we are using this opening to clear roads before the snow begins falling again. This is an opportunity to be a good neighbor and check on your fellow New Yorkers to see if they need assistance, but I urge everyone to stay off the road.”

One of the deaths was a 46-year-old man found inside a buried car. A Pennsylvania man was killed when a high lift attempting to free the man’s car ended up pinning him to the car.

Forecasters say that another two to three feet of snow could hit the Buffalo area.

Lake Erie Water To Be Examined

In the aftermath of Toledo, Ohio and its 400,000 residents having to go without water for almost three days because of toxins created by algae in Lake Erie, officials are now investigating to see what they can do to help keep the water supply safe.

“This is not just one community issue, this is the whole lake,” said state Rep. Dave Hall.

Intensive chemical treatments had to be made to the Toledo water system and in Lake Erie to reduce the level of algae-created toxin in the water level.  While the toxin was not completely removed from the water, it was reduced to a level that is safe to drink.

Governor John Kasich, who had declared a state of emergency for three counties around Toledo as many communities had pulled water from the Toledo system, said that he would launch an investigation to see if the problem was really the algae blooms or if there were significant problems within the Toledo water system itself.

Some residents said they’re waiting to use the tap.

“I’m waiting for two or three days,” Aretha Howard, of Toledo, told FoxNews. “I have a pregnant daughter at home. She can’t drink this water.”

Great Lakes Facing Significant Recovery

Federal experts are putting a positive spin on the record cold and ice that is covering the Great Lakes will help replenish levels hurt by low rain levels.  The lakes hit a low in January 2013 and the increased rainfall will help the shipping industry who has been fighting low water levels.

However, the same officials had to admit that it was possible some areas could see flooding because of the high levels of ice and snow surrounding the lake and rivers that feed into it.

The Lakes are now over 91 percent covered, the highest total since 95 percent coverage in 1979.   Ice coverage in surrounding rivers and streams could also cause flooding issues if they create ice dams as the ice pack starts to melt.

“Any additional rainfall on top of that snowpack would add to that flood threat,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, hydrology branch chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the AP. “We’re certainly paying very close attention to the weather in the next few weeks.”

The forecast from the Army Corps of Engineers says that Lake Superior will be more than a foot higher than last year.  Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are also expected to be over a foot higher.