It’s So Cold in the Midwest That Antifreeze Could Freeze

Welcome to life in the polar vortex.

The Polar Vortex is a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both north and south poles.
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Brian Resnick
Jan. 6, 2014, 8:29 a.m.

For once in a weath­er story, su­per­lat­ives might be an un­der­state­ment.

It’s real cold, in one chart. (NOAA)The Mid­w­est is cur­rently dead-cen­ter in the eye of a “po­lar vor­tex,” a weath­er pat­tern in which some of the cold­est air on the plan­et clenches a bey­ond-icy fist on Amer­ica’s heart­land. 

The air, iron­ic­ally, was pushed south­ward due to a warm patch of wa­ter near Alaska. That warm air, in ef­fect, blocks pa­cific winds from reach­ing the arc­tic, as Mash­able ex­plains: “This al­lows air from the Arc­tic to sit un­dis­turbed in north­ern Canada, be­com­ing colder and colder be­fore flow­ing ‘like molasses’ down south through Canada and in­to the United States.”

Now, ima­gine that the molasses is around minus 20 de­grees Fahren­heit. 

So what hap­pens at tem­per­at­ures that cold?

1. The an­ti­freeze in your car could freeze. This pop­u­lar brand will freeze at minus 34 de­grees. The cold­est tem­per­at­ure re­cor­ded in the coun­try Monday af­ter­noon was minus 36 in Crane Lake, Minn. There, you have to start call­ing it “freeze.” In the rest of the Mid­w­est, however, most overnight lows will only reach the neg­at­ive mid-teens — per­fect tem­per­at­ures for freez­ing whole bottles of vodka (which freezes at minus 16.51 de­grees).

2. You can ima­gine what it is like to live on Mars.

3. At  minus 20 de­grees and with 30 mph winds, frost­bite oc­curs in six minutes. (Use this grim frost­bite cal­cu­lat­or to see how quickly you would die if left un­covered out­side.)

4. Your cell­phone bat­tery will call it quits. 

5. You should stay in­side. 

6. You can make snow with a pot of boil­ing wa­ter.

×