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Much colder weather is on tap for the second half of January with a weakening polar vortex, according to forecasters.
But don’t look for anything like the horrific, record cold that punished Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest last winter, AccuWeather said.
After a big storm system Friday and Saturday moves out, the National Weather Forecasts highs just near 14, 17 and 20 Sunday through Tuesday and lows around 4 and 2 Sunday night and Monday night, while 27 Storm meteorologist Max Tsaparis predicts highs near 14, 14 and 18 and lows around 0 and 10.
And that won’t be the end of the cold, according to AccuWeather.
"We expect conditions to turn much colder during the last two weeks of January," AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said. "There will be some weakening and stretching of the polar vortex, which will allow cold air to drain southward from Canada in stages during the second half of the month. However, a big breakdown and major shift of the polar vortex, which would allow an extremely cold discharge, is not anticipated.”
The polar vortex keeps cold air locked up near the Arctic Circle when it's strong, and that has been the case this winter. When the polar vortex weakens and shifts its position, cold air can escape south. That was the case in last winter’s bitter cold snap.
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In addition, a large southward bulge in the jet stream is expected next week that is likely to persist and stick around for two to perhaps four weeks. That will enable cold arctic air to move down into the U.S., following a mild first half of meteorological winter.
"By next weekend, nearly all of the lower 48 states may be colder than average," Pastelok said. "Temperature departures from average will probably be more like 3 to 10 degrees below average.”
Normal highs for the second half of January, which is the coldest part of the year, are at 26 and 27 and lows 11 and 12 for Madison, according to the Weather Service.
The colder trend is expected to continue into February, and AccuWeather's long-range team of meteorologists is predicting February to average 1 to 3 degrees below normal for much of the eastern half of the nation, with the exception of Florida.
"As we get into February, the polar vortex may strengthen and retreat toward the Arctic Circle once again and the jet stream dip may set up more toward the middle of the nation, which would suggest cold conditions there but result in moderating cold in the East," Pastelok said.
Deep freeze: Read our coverage of the early 2019 polar vortex in southern Wisconsin
Deep freeze: Read our coverage of the early 2019 polar vortex in southern Wisconsin
Winter weather has been pounding southern Wisconsin, bringing lots of snow and then extreme cold temperatures. Keep up with the latest news here.
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"One has to keep in mind that this is the hottest time of the year for us. The other thing is that this is a very, very dry environment, so that the same temperature here and in Wisconsin may feel a lot colder for you than for us," a researcher wrote.
Southern Wisconsin and all of the Upper Midwest is in the middle of a stretch of historically cold weather, and it will get worse before it gets better, according to forecasters.
The life-threatening temperatures forecasters are calling the coldest in a generation prompted UW-Madison to cancel classes, events and campus activities from 5 p.m. Tuesday through noon Thursday.
"It's crowded but it's available," said Karen Andro, who runs the homeless ministry for First United Methodist Church.
While the high is only expected to reach -13 on Wednesday -- just two degrees shy of the 120-year-old record -- climate data show cold snaps like this are far less common than they were a generation ago.
Madison school children will have another day of no classes Wednesday, because of the extremely cold temperatures.
All non-essential state offices and agencies will be shuttered to the public Wednesday, and most state employees will be able to request the day off due to the weather.
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service said regular mail delivery across eastern Wisconsin would be suspended Wednesday but express mail in metro areas would be available.
The area is under a wind chill advisory through 6 p.m. on Tuesday, then a wind chill warning through noon on Thursday as the cold reaches truly life-threatening levels, according to forecasters.
Area school closings in the last week due to snow have left parents scrambling to adjust routines while bracing for more days off this week.
Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency in Wisconsin on Monday, because of the heavy snows that have fallen and the extreme cold still to come.
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