As icy grip on the Midwest eases, cities prepare for ‘thermal whiplash’

Ice builds up along the shore of Lake Michigan as temperatures during the past two days have dipped to lows around -20 degrees on January 31, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

An arctic blast that left 16 people dead in the Midwest will ease over the weekend, replaced by erratic temperatures that will melt away snow and ice, and cause more problems.

This week’s deep freeze grounded thousands of flights and dozens of trains in the region. Officials in some of the hardest-hit cities such as Minneapolis, Detroit and Chicago, implored residents to stay indoors to prevent frostbite and keep motorists off icy roads.

With the biting cold moving out, temperatures will be all over the place in the next few days, a rapid change that will cause thermal whiplash for people living in affected areas.

“Get ready for some serious ups and downs in the world of temperatures. The Twin Cities will go from around negative 25 this morning to around 45 above on Sunday back to around negative 10 by next Wednesday night,” the National Weather Service tweeted Thursday, referring to Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

That will be about 125 degrees in temperature change over the next seven days, it said.

15 million people are under wind chill alerts

Forecasters describe wildly fluctuating weather trends as whiplash.

At the cold’s peak Thursday, more than 216 million people experienced temperatures below freezing. By Friday morning, 15 million people remained under wind chill alerts, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said.

Chicago’s temperatures will skyrocket in the next few days — from a low of minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday to the 50s on Monday — a change of more than 70 degrees, Brink said. Atlanta shivered in the 20s this week, but will bask in the 60s when it hosts the Super Bowl on Sunday.

In Detroit, the Metro Airport had 36 hours of below 0 temperatures until Thursday, its longest such streak since January 1994. The city’s weekend temperatures will be in the 30s on Saturday, 40s on Sunday and into the 50s on Monday, the National Weather Service tweeted.

Despite higher weekend temperatures, some weather-related headaches lingered for travelers. More than 350 flights involving US airports were canceled Friday — down from 2,300 the previous day. The majority of them were due to fly out of Chicago, according to FlightAware.

Flooding is possible during the thaw

Despite the prospects of higher temperatures, light snow fell in the area Thursday night, leading to slippery roads and slower commutes. Before the weekend warms up, more snow will hit parts of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, the National Weather Service said.

When Chicago’s above-freezing temperatures start Saturday, snow and ice will melt, and could cause flooding along rivers as large pieces of ice break and jam the flow of water downstream, Brink said. Other hazards include the falling of icicles that have formed on buildings.

“Chicago’s average high is 32°F for this time of year,” Brink said. “They are going from well below average temperature to well above average temperatures.”

11 states had temperatures lower than Alaska

The brutally cold weather was so intense Thursday, at least 11 states in the continental United States hit a temperature lower than the one recorded in Alaska’s northernmost city.

The Dakotas, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania all saw temperatures fall below -14 degrees, according to CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward. That was the temperature in Utqiagvik (also known as Barrow) a town of about 4,400 that sits north of the Arctic Circle.

At least 50 people were treated for frostbite in Chicago, a majority of them homeless. Under such extreme conditions, frostbite can set in as quickly as three to 10 minutes, depending on age, exposure and other factors such as wet gloves and socks.

The bone-chilling weather also caused a phenomenon called cryoseism in Chicago — loud booms referred to as “frost quake.” It happens when water underground freezes and expands, causing soil and rock to crack.

Of the 16 deaths linked to this week’s extreme weather, eight were a result of car crashes in Iowa. Storm-related deaths were also reported in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana and Wisconsin, authorities said.

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