“Polar Vortex” Plunges Much Of The Country Into Coldest Weather In 20 Years

There’s “cold” and then there’s “polar vortex cold.”

Forget Hercules: The weather phenomenon of the week is a “polar vortex.” Meteorologist Frank Giannasca described the unusual event to NBC News as a “a swirling pool of extremely cold air located tens of thousands of feet in the atmosphere.”

A bicyclist rides northbound on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago on Sunday Jan. 5. Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune / MCT

The polar vortex has plunged much of the country into dangerous, record-breaking low temperatures, including 32 below zero in Fargo, N.D., 21 below in Madison, Wis., and 15 below in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and Chicago, according to the AP.

The Weather Channel

Combined with the wind chill, the temperatures in some regions could drop into negative 50s and 60s. Roughly 140 million Americans will be affected by the freezing temperatures.

People walk a snow-filled street on Jan. 3 in Washington, D.C. Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press / MCT

Thirteen Americans have died from this past week’s weather, with 11 from road accidents.

Rick Gibson shovels the snow from his neighbor’s driveway in Southfield, Mich., on Jan. 5. AP Photo/ The Detroit News, David Guralnick

For much of the United States, the temperatures are the lowest in 20 years, according to the National Weather Service.

A man photographs the Korean War Veterans Memorial after a heavy snow storm in Washington Jan. 3. Gary Cameron / Reuters

Close to 3,000 flights were canceled Sunday, according to Flightaware.com. But the weather couldn’t prevent more than 70,000 hardcore fans from attending the Green Bay Packers game in Wisconsin, despite temperatures between 4 and 8 degrees.

A football fan shows off to television cameras during the San Francisco 49ers game against the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis., on Jan. 5. Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group / MCT

Luckily, the polar vortex won’t last forever: By the end of the week, temperatures in the Midwest will rise to the 20s and 30s, and up to the 40s in parts of the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.

A snowy Chicago on Jan. 5. Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune / MCT

UPDATED — Jan. 6, 7:40 p.m. ET:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for multiple counties in Western New York.

Northjersey.com, Carmine Galasso / Via AP Photo

“We are preparing for a truly extraordinary winter weather event,” said Go. Cuomo during a conference call late Monday afternoon. “This storm promises to be truly difficult and dangerous.”

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