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Expand chart
Data: National Weather Service; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

An extreme winter weather event is unfolding across the Midwest on Wednesday, and by the end of the day, numerous daily and all-time temperature records will be shattered.

The big picture: An air mass that originated in the High Arctic is currently swinging across the Great Lakes, sending some air temperatures plummeting below minus 30°F. Combined with winds of 40 miles per hour at times, wind chills are reaching dangerous levels below minus 50°F, and in some cases below minus 60°F in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan.

Details: Typically, when cold outbreaks hit the Midwest, meteorologists take on a reassuring demeanor, letting their audience know that this is the type of cold they've experienced before.

That's not the case this time. Here's what the NWS forecast office in Des Moines stated on Tuesday:

  • "THIS HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE LIFE-THREATENING COLD AIR!!! This is the coldest air many of us will have ever experienced. This is not a case of 'meh, it's Iowa during winter and this cold happens.' These are record-breaking cold air temperatures, with wind chill values not seen in the 21st century in Iowa."

Depending on the location, Wednesday and Thursday are likely to be the coldest days in 20-plus years.

In Chicago, the all-time record for the coldest daytime high temperature is likely to be tied or broken, with temperatures only climbing to minus 11°F. Similar records are in jeopardy in South Bend, Indiana, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Rockford, Illinois.

Expand chart
Data: ThreadEx, WeatherBell; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Residents of Minneapolis and Des Moines are being warned to limit their exposure to the cold to mere minutes, given the possibility of frostbite.

The climate context: This extreme weather event comes courtesy of a lobe of the polar vortex, which has swirled its way southward, out of the high Arctic, to strafe the Midwest and Northeast with a taste of the winter weather normally felt in far northern Canada.

And we're going to be seeing more of these. Even though we think of climate change as rising global temperatures, recent studies show that it could cause more frequent southward polar vortex incursions too — because as it melts Arctic sea ice, it alters the exchange of heat and moisture between the ocean and atmosphere in the Far North.

Scientists are still debating the physical drivers behind this process, and it's an area of active research.

Go deeper:

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CDC director Rochelle Walensky warned states on Monday that "now is not the time" to lift public health restrictions, as the recent dramatic declines in coronavirus cases and deaths "appear to be stalling."

Why it matters: While the average of 70,000 new infections and 2,000 daily deaths is nowhere near the extremely high levels recorded at the start of 2021, the figures are still a poor baseline to "stop a potential fourth surge" — especially with the threat posed by more contagious new variants, Walensky warned.

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Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday introduced a bill in the Senate that would impose a new tax on the assets of America's wealthiest individuals.

Why it matters: The plan, which Warren introduced along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) is similar to a proposal that was the centerpiece of Warren's campaign for the presidency in 2020.

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Former French President Sarkozy sentenced to jail for corruption

Nicolas Sarkozy, 2011. Photo: XINHUA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

A court in Paris on Monday sentenced former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to one year in prison and a two-year suspended sentence after he was found guilty of trying to bribe a magistrate, AP reports.

Driving the news: Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, is the first president in France’s modern history to have gone on trial for corruption, per AP. He was charged with corruption and influence-peddling.