Views from space show how the polar vortex covered much of the U.S. with arctic temperatures.
It’s a cold morning across the Midwest and Northeast.
Not record-shattering cold, though.
After days of stunningly bitter winter weather that sent temperatures plummeting as low as 56 degrees below zero, paralyzed airline and rail travel, closed schools and businesses and suspended mail delivery in nine states, the worst of this polar vortex invasion is over.
At least 18 people have died as a result of the cold and snow.
While morning temperatures were still near zero across a wide swath of the nation – including Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and Burlington, Vt., – the forecast for Friday and into the weekend was downright balmy.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a case where we’ve seen (such a big) shift in temperatures” in the winter, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground firm. “Past record-cold waves have not dissipated this quickly. … Here we are going right into spring-like temperatures.”
At least 160 cold temperature records were set in the Midwest and Northeast over the past two days of January, according to the Weather Channel.
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The wild swing in temperatures raises concerns about water main breaks, potholes and flooding rivers. FEMA warned Michigan residents that “the rapid change in weather and snowmelt could lead to dangerous flooding.”
In Detroit, which broke a 99-year-old record for Jan. 31, coming in at minus-14 degrees on Thursday morning, AccuWeather called for a high of 15 on Friday, followed by 37 on Saturday, 45 on Sunday and 50 on Monday.
City workers in Detroit have already dealt with dozens of water main breaks.
In Chicago, where the Chicago River turned to ice as temperatures fell to 23 degrees below zero on Wednesday morning, the Friday high was projected to be 19 degrees. Above zero.
The temperature was forecast to rise 20 degrees on Saturday, to 39, with AccuWeather calling for 45 on Sunday and 52 on Monday.
In Illinois, at least 144 people visited hospital emergency rooms for cold-related injuries over two days.
Daily records also fell in cities across Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. International Falls, Minnesota, broke a 23-year-old record by 10 degrees, with a low of 45 degrees below zero on Thursday morning.
Milwaukee topped a record that had stood since 1899 by six degrees, with a low of minus-21.
While Minneapolis didn’t set an all-time record on Thursday, the town of Cotton, about 175 miles north, checked in at 56 degrees below zero, just four degrees shy of the state record of minus-60.
In other signs that the worst of the deep freeze was ending, Xcel Energy on Thursday lifted a request to its Minnesota natural gas customers to temporarily lower their thermostats to ease concerns about the fuel supply.
Three cities did set all-time record low tempeartures on Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service: Rockford (minus-30) and Moline (minus-33) in Illinois and Cedar Rapids (minus-30) in Iowa.
The chunk of the polar vortex that brought the cold blast was “rotating up into Canada” and not expected to return in the next couple of weeks, Masters said, adding that “it won’t be as intense” if it returns in late February.
The cold and snow was blamed for at least 18 deaths after four fatalities were reported in New York on Thursday, including two men who died clearing snow in Erie County. Another man was killed when his vehicle hit a snowdrift and slammed into a pole in Livingston County and a homeless man’s frozen body was found in a suburban Buffalo bus shelter.
Despite the recent chill, however, January was warmer-than-average across the nation, thanks to the unusually mild first half of the month. There were about twice as many record high temperatures as record lows for the month, according to NOAA.
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Contributing: Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY; The Associated Press.
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