'Life-threatening' cold bites U.S. Midwest

Sun Jan 5, 2014 3:43pm EST
 
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By Brendan O'Brien and Kim Palmer

MILWAUKEE/COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Residents of the Midwestern United States on Sunday braced for the region's coldest weather in two decades, with temperatures that forecasters warned would be life-threatening seen heading eastward during the week.

Icy conditions snarled travel across the Midwest and thousands of flights were canceled or delayed, some officials preemptively closed schools and a plane skidded off a runway into snow at a New York City airport, days after the Northeast was hammered by the first winter storm of the season.

"The coldest temperatures in almost two decades will spread into the northern and central U.S. today behind an arctic cold front," the National Weather Service said on Sunday. "Combined with gusty winds, these temperatures will result in life-threatening wind chill values as low as 60 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit/minus 51 degrees Celsius)."

In weather that cold, frostbite can set in on uncovered skin in a matter of minutes, experts warned.

The NWS said the widespread chill was a result of a relatively infrequent alignment of weather conditions, allowing the Arctic polar vortex to be displaced unusually far south.

"The weather pattern across North America right now is set up to be very favorable for the southward transport of Arctic air," said Bob Oravec, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

"It's not going to be long-lived," he added. "By the end of the week the temperatures definitely start to moderate across the whole of the country."

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A woman and her son make their way up a snow covered sidewalk in the South Bronx section of New York City, January 3, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar