Polar vortex freezes U.P.

In case you hadn’t heard, two-thirds of the country is in the midst of a bitingly cold, polar vortex that won’t let up until sometime tomorrow.

The only thing that seems to be heating up is the record books as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Austin, Texas tied their lowest temperature marks at -2 and 22 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.

Marquette County was halfway there today, notching a cool negative 8-degree standing temperature with wind chills venturing past 20 below zero.

“But if we look strictly by the numbers or the current temperatures we have, it’s nothing way out of the ordinary of what we would expect in the winter season in Upper Michigan,” said Matt Zika, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Marquette. “But, it’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a stretch of weather this cold. We’d probably have to go back, actually, into the mid 1990’s – 1996 is probably the most similar case to where it’s been as cold as it is right now for an extended period of time. I think the biggest thing that’s making this event become more of anomaly compared to most events we see during the winter season is the combination between the air temperatures in the teens and twenties below zero, plus the fact that we have winds gusting around 20 mph. That combination is allowing wind chills to fall as low as 35 to 50 degrees below zero.”

When the wind chill dips that low it only takes about 10 to 20 minutes until frostbite sets in, which has caused school districts across the state to cancel classes before they even begin.

Marquette Area Public Schools do not have cancellation policy in place, but the ground rule puts the wind chill breaking point at 25 below; a number they’ve reached this year but only sporadically.

Given the estimated 37 below forecasted for tomorrow and the fact it would only be their third snow day, officials are erring on the side of caution.

“There is some light at the end of the tunnel if folks don’t like this particular type of weather,” Zika laughed. “As we head through the week, definitely by Thursday and Friday, the overall pattern is going to start to relax. We’ll see a moderating trend and we may actually see temperatures approaching 30 degrees during the day over the upcoming weekend.”

Just to put things in perspective, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton cancelled school for the entire state.