Record low temperatures as polar vortex drives Arctic winds down US east coast

New York weather coldest for 118 years amid warnings about frostbite, hypothermia

People use skyways to avoid going outside as temperatures  in Minneapolis dropped to -25 degrees Celsius. Photograph: EPA/Craig Lassig.

People use skyways to avoid going outside as temperatures in Minneapolis dropped to -25 degrees Celsius. Photograph: EPA/Craig Lassig.


Temperatures plunged to record lows on the US east coast as the so-called polar vortex drove freezing Arctic wind chills eastwards in another day of dislocation for air, rail and road travellers.

Almost 187 million people, more than half the US population, have been warned about the risk of wind chills, frostbite and hypothermia as the freezing polar air mass has shifted unusually far south.

The cold air sent temperatures down to -15 degrees in New York, smashing a 118- year-old record, while Washington DC posted near historic lows and the coldest spell in 18 years. High winds sent temperatures even lower as wind chill, what the air temperature actually feels like, pushed the cold to between -25 and -30 degrees and led to warnings of life-threatening conditions.

Air temperatures were forecast to remain in the negative teens overnight on the east coast as people were cautioned about the risk of frostbite if exposed to the freezing air for even several minutes.

Record low temperatures for this time of year were set in Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma and as far south as Alabama and Texas, though temperatures in the midwest began rising as the vortex moved east.

Air traffic improved slightly yesterday as fewer flights were cancelled or delayed at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, one of the busiest in the country, though east-coast airports were hit by the cold blast.

Almost 3,400 flights within, in and out of the US were delayed yesterday afternoon, according to FlightAware, the flight-tracking website, while 2,400 flights were cancelled.

The bulk of the cancelled flights were in Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis and Buffalo in New York.

Low-cost air carrier JetBlue said services were returning to normal yesterday afternoon after cancelling all flights to and from airports in New York and Boston on Monday.

About 500 rail passengers were stranded overnight on board three Amtrak trains stuck in drifting snow near Chicago in northern Illinois and were without food for long periods of time.

The freezing weather has stirred up a debate over climate change as meteorologists noted that changes to the polar vortex had become more common in recent years.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh accused the media and liberals of conjuring up the polar vortex phrase to “lie” to the public about the “hoax” of climate change and global warming.– (Additional reporting: Associated Press)