Polar vortex to mostly bypass Texas, delivering record cold air elsewhere

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A big chunk of bittterly cold Arctic air associated with the polar vortex will mostly bypass Texas, but could break cold temperature records in the Plains and Midwest.

After a nice afternoon in the 70s Monday, Austin’s wind chill temperatures will drop to the lower 20s Tuesday morning. Cooler than average winter weather settles in locally tomorrow and Wednesday, with highs only the 40s to low 50s.

While the front will lead to a 20+ degree drop in local temperatures Tuesday and reason to bundle up, this is far from the worst that this Arctic air mass has to offer.

FORECAST: See your first warning weather forecast on the KXAN weather page

Even in the typically frozen upper Midwest, temperatures will flirt with all-time record cold.

The forecast high of -14°F in Chicago on Wednesday would be their coldest high temperature ever, a record that currently stands at -11°F.

Wind chill temperatures in the northern Plains and upper Midwest may drop to -65°F at times, cold enough to give exposed skin permanent frostbite in just five minutes. Wind Chill Warnings and Advisories are in place for several states.

So, what is the polar vortex? The National Weather Service describes it this way: 

The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term “vortex” refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream (see graphic above). This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States. The one that occurred January 2014 is similar to many other cold outbreaks that have occurred in the past, including several notable colder outbreaks in 1977, 1982, 1985 and 1989.

Locally, we will bring back a warmer southeast wind starting Thursday, likely bringing the return of unseasonably warm temperatures as we head into the first weekend of February. 

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