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Potential temperature where the troposphere meets the stratosphere, showing a lobe of the polar vortex over the Midwest. Image: Weatherbell.com

The coldest air of the season will roar into the Midwest and Ohio Valley next week as a lobe of the polar vortex comes south from the Arctic Ocean. The cold will eventually reach the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Why it matters: The extreme cold outbreak may set daily temperature records, including records for the coldest high temperature on a particular date. It's also possible that an all-time cold record or two will be tied or broken. Temperatures hovering in the single digits or lower on Wednesday and Thursday in cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago, , Milwaukee and St. Louis, combined with the wind chill, will make it downright dangerous to be outside at times.

The details: By early next week, a lobe of what's known as the tropospheric polar vortex will wobble outside of the Arctic to take up position above the Midwest. This will bring with it high temperatures that will struggle to get above 0°F, and overnight lows on Tuesday through Thursday will plunge well below zero.

  • Overall, temperatures look to be between 30°F and 40°F below average for this time of year, though some computer model guidance suggests it could be even colder in the Great Lakes region in particular.
  • About 200 million people in the U.S. will see temperatures dip below freezing next week, based on model projections.
  • For example, the current overnight low temperature forecast for Chicago on Wednesday is minus 17°F, which is frigid, but nowhere near the city's coldest high temperature on record of minus 27°F, set in January 1985.
  • Wind chills on Wednesday morning could reach the minus 60s°F in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Computer models still differ on the magnitude of the cold, but it's unlikely that many all-time cold temperature records in the Midwest — typically one of the coldest regions of the country during winter — will be broken during this event.

  • Partly this is due to the intensity of the cold air mass, but it also reflects shifts in the background climate.
  • As the Earth has warmed over the past few decades, record cold weather still occurs, but is getting less likely. Meanwhile, the likelihood of hot season extremes is becoming more likely. Even the infamous "polar vortex winter" of 2013-14 failed to set a slew of all-time cold temperature records, though it did cause many daily records to tumble.

This cold snap, like the one earlier in the month, has its roots high above the Earth's surface. Meteorologists have been closely watching weather patterns ever since conditions in the stratosphere, about 100,000 feet aloft, suddenly warmed about 5 weeks ago. This is known as a Sudden Stratospheric Warming event.

Go deeper:

The bottom line: It's going to get unusually cold across a large swath of the Lower 48 states during the next week, and the cold will not let up quickly. The frigid weather may be accompanied by some snow across the Great Lakes and Northeast as well.

Go deeper

House passes sweeping election and anti-corruption bill

Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

The House voted 220-210Wednesday to pass Democrats' expansive election and anti-corruption bill.

Why it matters: Expanding voting access has been a top priority for Democrats for years, but the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) comes as states across the country consider legislation to rollback voting access in the aftermath of former President Trump's loss.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.