- A dangerous polar-vortex weather system is bringing extremely cold temperatures to the Midwest this week.
- Michigan and Illinois residents told INSIDER to wear layers, warm up while inside, and only go outside if you absolutely have to.
- Meteorologists with the National Weather Service urged people to cover up to avoid frostbite and keep emergency kits in their cars,
Growing up in Michigan, the coldest winter temperature I remember was 2014, when it hit 14 degrees below zero – before factoring in windchill.
I was attending the University of Michigan, and I had to walk half a mile through the cold to and from campus everyday for classes (thankfully, not uphill both ways).
The polar vortex currently hitting the Midwest reminded me of those miserable walks as I saw that dangerously low temperatures were hitting the region.
I texted my dad, who lives in Detroit, this morning to tell him to stay warm.
His response? “Not bad now. -3F. Lowest ever for me was 30C in Lafayette [Indiana] in ’84, or -22F.”
Now that I live in New York, when people complain about the 20 degree temperatures, I always think, “Oh this is nothing.”
From a young age, I was taught tips on how to manage the cold, from dressing in warm layers, to carrying extra blankets in the car.
So with temperatures hitting extreme lows this week, I contacted friends across the Midwest to ask what they were doing to stay warm.
Here’s what they said.
Wear layers, but keep them loose
The most basic tip people told me was to wear long underwear, hats, gloves and warm socks when venturing outside.
Some people suggested using automatic car starters, disposable hand warmers, and turning on the fire place.
Tess Hochstein, a 26-year-old TV producer who lives in the metro-Detroit area, was stuck at her parent’s house Wednesday morning because her car wouldn’t start in the cold.
She, too, recommended layering up in the cold, but warned tight layers could cut off circulation and make you even colder.
She also said to make sure to wear a long coat, so wind doesn’t make its way up your back.
“And use your hood to block the wind – it’s a game changer,” she told me.
Don’t go outside unless it’s absolutely necessary
Katie Finan, a 27-year-old marketing professional who grew up between Michigan and Boston, has now lived in Chicago for seven years.
Chicagoans woke up to temperatures as low as minus 20, with windchills hitting minus 52 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Weather Service.
The heart of the Arctic cold has arrived.
The combined effects of the cold & winds are at their peak today with wind chills of -45° to -60° continuing. The afternoon highs today…yes the highs…will only be -11° to -17°. Please be smart & safe today. #ILwx #INwx pic.twitter.com/3WaRW6SyKR
— NWS Chicago (@NWSChicago) January 30, 2019
Finan’s first piece of advice was to not to go outside if you don’t have to.
“I walked to a coffee shop due to an internet outage (while working from home), and my legs hurt so bad,” she said. “I was outside for maybe 7 minutes.”
Finan and her husband, Dan, stocked up on water, pizza, and cookies – “Diets are out the window on days like this!” – so they could stay inside until the polar vortex passes.
The couple also have a puppy, and Finan recommended that other people be conscious of how long their animals spend outside during the cold weather.
“If they start to look like they’re doing an Irish jig, it’s definitely time to go back inside,” she said.
When inside, use a space heater – safely
Meanwhile Amanda Hayes, a 26-year-old lawyer also living in Chicago, said she and her boyfriend have embraced their space heater.
She said their heat has been wonky this winter, and their bedroom window lets in a breeze due to an air conditioning unit being installed.
“We just fire up the heater and move it around the house with us,” Hayes said, adding that she and her boyfriend are always safe with the space heater, and never allow it to stay on overnight.
Cover as much skin as you can to avoid frostbite
I also spoke to experts with the National Weather Service to see what they’d advise.
Matt Zika, a meteorologist for NWS based in Marquette, Michigan, said the temperatures hitting this week are unusual, even for a region used to being hit by arctic blasts.
He said that it takes just 10 minutes for frostbite or hypothermia go into effect when windchills are hitting minus 30 to minus 50 degrees, like they are in Northern Michigan this week.
“Dress in layers and limit direct skin exposure to the cold,” he told INSIDER via email. “Anybody travelling through the Upper Great Lakes should make sure they have extra blankets and extra winter survival gear in their automobiles in case they become stranded for an extended period of time. Whiteout conditions in lake effect snow bands will continue downwind of the Lakes into Thursday making travel treacherous.”
He also urged people to limit the time pets spend outside.
“If you are cold, you pets probably are too,” he said.
Put a winter survival kit in your car
Meteorologist Jeff Last, who works for the NWS office in Green Bay, Wisconsin, also warned of frostbite, and said the most prone areas are uncovered skin and extremities, like hands and feet.
He said to put a winter survival kit in cars, and detailed what it include: jumper cables, a flashlight, first aid kit, non-perishable food and water, shovel, extra clothing, blankets, hand warmers, and a charged cell phone.
And if you have to be outside, take breaks to warm up
Chris Franks, an NWS meteorologist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, told INSIDER that people who work outside or have to be outside for long periods of time should treat the extreme cold like the extreme heat and take breaks.
“Working out in the elements can sneak up on you, so come inside and warm up as much as you can,” he said. “Eat often and drink some warm beverages – anything you can do to warm up.”
He also urged people to plan for the worst, even if they’re just going from their house to a warm car.
“Dress as if there’s a potential you could get stranded,” he said. “You could be stuck out in the elements for a while.”
NWS offers forecasts and weather warnings across the United States at weather.gov.
- Read more:
- Here’s what it’s like in one of the coldest cities in the US, where the wind chill is in the -50s
- The Kentucky governor criticised schools for closing down during the polar vortex: ‘We’re getting soft’
- A polar vortex is engulfing the US. Here’s what that really means, and why these events might be getting more common.
- The frigid ‘polar vortex’ cold snap engulfing the US is so bad it can give people frostbite in 5 minutes
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