Voices from the vortex: Polar temps have us asking, ‘Is this Antarctica?’

Tim Skillern
Yahoo News
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Monday morning, the mercury in southern Mississippi flopped to a frosty 19 degrees. In northeast Montana, the temperature plummeted to minus 26. Residents in cities along the Great Lakes woke to subzero temperatures with wind chills much worse.

Americans across large stretches of the country greeted the first Monday of the new year with far-below-average readouts on their weather gadgets of choice.

“Average sounds pretty good right about now,” says Jason Schaver, of Clinton, Iowa, where temperatures tumbled to 17 below zero — 40 below if you count wind chill. It's all caused by what meteorologists are dubbing a "polar vortex," or a massive southbound weather system.

Yahoo News asked residents in some of the more frigid areas to share their cold-snap experiences. Below are lightly edited excerpts from stories they submitted today.

Snow, ice hamper travel across frigid Chicago

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CHICAGO — Snow has fallen in the city over the past week and, on Sunday, we got another three and a half inches on top of the previous accumulations. Even before the negative highs came around today, the temperature was only 3 degrees when my daughter and I had to hunt for a parking spot in the snow and walk several blocks back to our apartment Sunday night.

Even bundled in cold weather attire, my daughter cried the entire way inside. By the time we were in the warmth of our home, my fingertips and toes felt like they had been smashed in a door. Even this morning they are still sore from the exposure to the cold.

Traveling side streets in Chicago during this weather is risky. Many of the streets haven't been plowed. I saw many cars getting stuck in snowdrifts on the streets in the Lakeview neighborhood, an added danger in these temperatures.

Those living in and around the city can now say they have experienced Chicago's lowest temperature on record Monday morning. The minus 17 reading surpassed the 1988 record of minus 14. This is far from Chicago's average January high of 32 and low of 18 degrees. The dangerous arctic blast has closed down the Chicago Public Schools, and has put a health warning in effect to keep people indoors.

Chicago O'Hare International Airport has canceled more than 1,000 flights as of 7:30 a.m. due to deicing problems.

— Janoa Taylor

Is this Antarctica? No, it's Iowa

CLINTON, Iowa — The first thing I heard this morning when my alarm went off was the sound of the weatherman saying it was minus 17. Then he followed that by saying it was minus 40 with the wind chill. He then advised us that when the wind chill is that low, exposed skin can easily get frostbite in just five minutes.

My hometown hasn't seen temperatures like this since, well, 2009, according to the Clinton Herald. That day was Jan. 15, when the temp was minus 24.

I had a feeling that my normally reliable 2004 Chevy Cavalier wouldn't want to start today. And it didn't. So I had to call off work.

It was so cold out that even our dog, Wilfred, wanted no part of going outside this morning. He's a 12-year-old Bernese mountain dog mix. This breed of dog can endure pretty much any weather. That he didn't want to be outside for more than a few minutes was enough proof for me that it was going to be a horrible day in the River Cities.

Last week we got snow four out of five days. This week we have arctic recording-breaking temps. Average temps for this time of year are in the upper 20s.

Average sounds pretty good right about now.

— Jason Schaver

Uncharacteristically cold weather stuns southern Arkansas

TEXARKANA, Ark. — Wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts during winter months is one of the perks of living in the South, particularly in Texarkana. On Monday, Arkansas truly tasted winter weather. The temperature this morning was 16, rising to around 19 by 10 a.m.

I’m the father of three young boys, and I bundled them up this morning not unlike Ralphie's little brother in “A Christmas Story.” Usually a jacket and possibly some mittens are in order because the weather takes a turn for the warmer in the afternoon. However, the cruel temperatures made me perhaps a bit overcautious. After dressing the boys in their regular school clothes, we added two sweatshirts, scarves, gloves, toboggans and puffy coats with hoods. Somewhere in there, my children were warm and safe.

Other parents dropped kids off who looked like walking Milk Duds as they waddled to their classrooms, where I imagine they began the tedious task of unwrapping themselves from their precautionary wardrobes.

The forecast here shows our highs hitting 64 by Friday. Now that's the southern Arkansas weather we know and love.

— Josh Jones

Freeze and thaw cycle aggravates in Philly

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PHILADELPHIA — Roller coaster temperatures have provided the area plenty of headaches over the past week with more up-and-down temps to come. The weather has been frightful for eastern Pennsylvania, and temperatures are expected again to plunge into the deep freeze. We're expecting a high of 14 degrees for Tuesday.

Additional precipitation struck the area on Sunday morning, and with temperatures hovering at the freezing mark, it caused area roadways to turn into virtual ice skating rinks into Monday. Driving conditions were treacherous as temperatures remained at the freezing mark for much of the morning.

The temperatures continued to seesaw into Monday, as a warm front moved into the area Sunday night. Although highs on Monday were in the 40s, the front also brought a heavy dousing of rain. With temperatures expected to quickly plunge into the single digits by nightfall, it looks like area roads will be back to their ice-skating conditions by Tuesday morning.

— John Focht

Wisconsin's severe cold hits pocketbook hard

MILWAUKEE, Wis. — The temperatures here are minus 11, combined with wind chills that make it feel like 35 below zero.

The freeze has forced kids home from school. I'm home from work with my kids, unable to earn money, and we're in the house with layers of clothing on. And the heat is running nonstop, costing plenty every minute.

I don't remember school being canceled due to severe cold temperatures since my 22-year-old was in elementary school. There is talk of school closings again for Tuesday, which will land me right here at home with my kids, playing cards, baking cookies, watching movies or perhaps doing artwork. The time with my kids is great; however, the time off work without pay? Not so much.

Local grocery stores like Pick ‘n Save, Piggly Wiggly, and Aldi are closing Monday, at least for half of the day, and likely Tuesday as well, with dangerous temperatures looking to top off at 5 degrees, as wind chills are expected to plummet to minus 40.

We all like time off, but the cost of heating the house during severely cold weather is enormous. One month takes up a third of my wages during these cold snaps. So, unfortunately, the time off is bittersweet. Time off combined with large heating bills? Not fun.

— Lyn Vaccaro