Life-Threatening Cold Grips the Northern Rockies and Midwest

Life-Threatening Cold Grips the Northern Rockies and Midwest
The white splotch basically means the map broke the misery index. That's not good. (Gif: Earth Wind Map)

The U.S. is in a race to cram in as much unhinged weather as possible before the year ends. The latest addition to the trophy case: bone-chilling cold in the Northern Rockies and Midwest, where wind chill values could reach minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-46 degrees Celsius) over the next two days, with the freeze lingering into the New Year.

Wind chill warnings and advisories stretch from Washington to Minnesota as brutal cold descends on the region and western Canada. High temperatures for Wednesday will, almost inconceivably, fail to reach above zero for large parts of Montana and North Dakota. Winds will whip up as well, reaching as high as 60 mph (97 kmh).

Extreme wind chills are already showing up across the region. Devil’s Lake, North Dakota is starting the day at minus-23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-31 degrees Celsius) and the wind chill has already dipped to minus-46 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-43 degrees Celsius). Parts of Montana are also well into the minus-40-degree-Fahrenheit wind chill values at this point as well.

Calling these conditions dangerous is an understatement. The National Weather Service said in its warnings for Montana, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota — the epicentre of the big chill — that conditions will be so extreme that frostbite could set in in just 10 minutes. In areas with more “marginal” (we’re using the term loosely here) wind chill values of minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-29 degrees Celsius), frostbite could take as “long” (again, we’re talking loosely) as 30 minutes to appear. In short, if you live in the region and need to go out, please bundle up.

The same chill is also hitting parts of Canada, including regions not accustomed to such deep cold. Among them are Vancouver and parts of British Columbia, which can now add record-breaking cold to the list of weather maladies that have hit this year. Environment Canada, the country’s weather service, issued an “Arctic outflow warning” for the Vancouver area calling for well-below-normal temperatures and negative wind chills in the normally temperate area.

The deep freeze is part of a wild weather pattern gripping North America right now. The jet stream, much like all of us, has simply broken down. The current of air moves from west to east, shuttling storms around and generally defining weather. But recent events have upended its normally orderly procession.

No, the jet stream has not contracted Omicron nor is it dismayed at the shifting sands of public health guidance. Instead, a jolt of energy has snapped through it and caused it to contort in weird ways. Where the jet stream has swung up, warm air is able to reach normally cooler areas while the dips are colder than normal. The Northern Rockies and Midwest, in case it wasn’t clear, are in a dip. And with strong high-pressure sitting over the region, it will lock in clear, cold conditions into the New Year.

But the wild weather is hardly confined to there. This week alone, California has been blitzed by record snow, while Alaska saw temperatures reach into the 60s, a record high for any winter month there. A similar pattern earlier this month also led to record warmth in the South, setting up a temperature contrast with the West that fuelled a deadly tornado outbreak that was followed in short succession by a severe wind and dust storm.

Natural factors like La Niña are almost certainly playing a role in our current weather adventure. The climate phenomenon formed earlier this year, and cold, stormy conditions in the northern part of the U.S. and warm weather in the south are among its hallmark traits. Lest you think the cold snap in the north proves global warming isn’t real, it’s also worth noting that federal data shows record highs have outpaced lows at a ratio of nearly 22-to-1 over the past seven days. And with heat expected again across the South on Wednesday, that ratio could stretch further. (It may also be an ideal vacation spot for folks in North Dakota.)