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A historic stretch of cold weather is just beginning for southern Wisconsin on Tuesday morning, with much worse to come, according to forecasters.
The area is under a wind chill advisory through 6 p.m., then a wind chill warning through noon on Thursday as the cold reaches truly life-threatening levels, according to forecasters.
The brutal cold comes thanks to a portion of the “polar vortex” moving into the region in the wake of a powerful winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow north and east of Madison Sunday into Monday. Madison officially got 6.3 inches from the storm. For the latest travel conditions, call 511 or go to the state’s 511 road conditions website.
The National Weather Service said wind chills would range from 20 to 34 below at times on Tuesday, and plunge as low as 35 to 55 below overnight through Thursday morning.
The temperature officially went below zero in Madison between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. Tuesday, as it fell from zero at 5:53 a.m. to 2 below at 6:53 a.m. at the Dane County Regional Airport.
And if the first polar vortex to hit the area in five winters keeps actual temperatures below zero until Friday, as is forecast, it would be historically rare for Madison: In records dating back to 1869 there have been just 13 times that Madison went three straight days staying below zero, according to data from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center. The last time was February 1996, when the low bottomed out at 29 below.
Madison’s coldest actual temperature was 37 below on Jan. 30, 1951, and the worst wind chill ever was 54 below on Jan. 20, 1985. The former record should be safe as the lows Tuesday and Wednesday night are only expected to reach 23 and 26 below, but the latter could be broken.
Madison’s all-time lowest high is 19 below on Dec. 21, 1872, so that record appears safe this week.
Milwaukee’s record cold wind chill was 56 below on Jan. 10, 1982.
There is a good chance for Madison to break its record low for Jan. 31 of 22 below, set in 1985, on Thursday.
The snow and cold was disrupting travel and closing hundreds of schools across the Midwest.
Even the fabled "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field, home to the NFL's Green Bay Packers, wasn't able to withstand the heavy snow and wind that closed hundreds of businesses, schools and government offices in Wisconsin. The stadium said tours, the Packers Hall of Fame and other related businesses were closed Monday.
Wednesday is expected to be the worst of the cold, with temperatures in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota possibly hitting 30 below, and wind chills plunging to 60 below.
"You're talking about frostbite and hypothermia issues very quickly, like in a matter of minutes, maybe seconds," said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center.
Rare cold and snow also was forecast for some southern states, with up to 3 inches in central Mississippi and Alabama by Tuesday morning and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issuing a state of emergency ahead of the storm.
The Weather Service said that on Tuesday in Madison, look for isolated snow showers after 11 a.m. and patchy blowing snow after noon, but otherwise mostly sunny skies, with a high near 1 below and west winds at 15 to 20 miles per hour and gusts as high as 30 mph producing wind chill values of 20 below to 30 below.
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Overnight, there’s a 20 percent chance for snow showers before midnight, with a low around 23 below and west winds around 20 mph and gusts as high as 30 mph producing wind child values of 40 to 50 below.
The high on Wednesday will be near 13 below under mostly sunny skies, with west winds at 10 to 15 mph and gusts as high as 25 mph producing wind chill values of 40 to 50 below.
Overnight Wednesday into Thursday, winds are forecast to ease to 5 to 10 mph out of the west, with a low around 26 below and wind chill values of 35 below to 45 below.
Thursday should see increasing clouds, with a high near 3 below and light winds, while there’s a 40 percent chance for snow overnight Thursday into Friday with a low around 6 below.
The Weather Service said the cold will begin to ease on Friday and highs actually will go above normal on the weekend, accompanied by chance for rain and snow of 30 percent Saturday night, 50 percent Sunday, 80 percent Sunday night, and 60 percent Monday.
Skies over Madison should be partly sunny Friday and Saturday, mostly cloudy Sunday and cloudy Monday, with highs near 15, 35, 40 and 35, and lows Friday night through Sunday night around 5, 32 and 27.
27 Storm Track meteorologist Branden Borremans also forecasts dangerously cold conditions into Thursday, with wind chill values of 20 below to 35 below Tuesday, 45 below to 55 below Tuesday night, 35 below to 55 below Wednesday, 30 below to 50 below Wednesday night, and 30 below to 50 below Thursday.
Borremans also said a warming trend will follow, with a few flurries and areas of blowing snow Tuesday, a light mix possible Saturday afternoon and night, a light mix Sunday into Monday, changing to snow, and snow possible next Tuesday night.
Borremans said skies over Madison should be partly sunny Tuesday and Wednesday, sunny to partly sunny Thursday, partly sunny Friday, partly sunny to mostly cloudy Saturday, cloudy Sunday and Monday, and partly sunny to mostly cloudy next Tuesday, with highs near 2 below, 13 below, 4 below, 16, 35, 38, 37 and 22, and overnight lows around 26 below, 30 below, 7 below, 10, 32, 36, 13 and 14.
Monday’s high in Madison was 21 at 9:12 a.m., 6 degrees below the normal high and 31 degrees below the record high of 52 for Jan. 28, set in 1914.
Monday’s low in Madison was 2 at 11:59 p.m., 9 degrees below the normal low and 25 degrees above the record low of 23 below for Jan. 28, set in 1915.
Officially, 0.42 inches of precipitation was recorded at the Dane County Regional Airport on Monday, boosting Madison’s January and 2019 precipitation total (rain plus snow converted to liquid) to 2.54 inches, 1.43 inches above normal. The meteorological winter (December through February) total rose to 4.64 inches, 1.79 inches above normal.
Madison’s record precipitation for Jan. 28 is 0.54 inches, set in 2006.
Officially, 5.1 inches of snow was recorded at the Dane County Regional Airport on Monday, boosting Madison’s January and 2019 snow total to 18.7 inches, 7.1 inches above normal. For meteorological winter, Madison has received 24.6 inches, 0.5 inches below normal. For the snow season (since July 1), Madison has received 28 inches, 1.2 inches below normal.
Madison’s record snowfall for Jan. 28 is 7.3 inches, set in 1918.
Madison’s official snow depth is 9 inches.
The Associated Press contributed to this report