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Powerful storm system set to hammer southern Wisconsin in advance of life-threatening cold. See how bad it will be

January 28, 2019

If you can, hunkering down in your home until next weekend would be a wise choice.

A powerful storm system is set to hammer southern Wisconsin with a foot of snow or more Sunday night into Monday before a “polar vortex” delivers days of life-threatening and perhaps record-setting cold, according to forecasters.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for the area from 6 p.m. Sunday through 6 p.m. Monday, with 6 to 13 inches of snow expected. The highest totals will be north of Milwaukee and the lowest southwest of Madison.

Snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour are possible Sunday night into early Monday morning.

“The potential exists for the storm to drop a swath of 6 inches or more along the corridor from Fargo, North Dakota, to Minneapolis; Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee, and Grand Rapids and Traverse City, Michigan,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said in a news release. “The northernmost suburbs of Chicago may also be targeted by the heavier snow band.

“There can be a dramatic difference between heavy snowfall and then little to no snow and temperatures climbing above freezing over a span of about 50-100 miles. The exact track of the storm will determine which areas are hit by or escape the snowstorm.”

Stretches of interstates 29, 35, 39, 75, 80, 90, 94 and 96 could be severely affected by the storm.

“The snow north of the storm’s track will be powdery, which will help ease the hardships of shoveling amid the frigid conditions,” Pydynowski said.

If that’s not bad enough, gusty winds will cause blowing and drifting snow at times, especially in the wake of the storm Monday afternoon and evening as the snow tapers off from east to west and the bitter cold air begins to move in.

Temperatures will fall below zero overnight Monday into Tuesday and might not get back above zero until Friday, with wind chill values expected to be less than 35 degrees below zero at times from Tuesday through Thursday night, with the brutal cold not easing until next weekend.

The cold could threaten Madison’s all-time coldest wind chill of 54.3 below on Jan. 20, 1985. The coldest actual temperature in Madison was 37 below on Jan. 30, 1951.

Such an extended cold stretch would be 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 1996.

“We’re going to be feeling it big time,” Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the private Weather Underground, told the Associated Press. “It’s going to be the coldest air in five years.”

Masters said the cold snap is due to the polar vortex — the gigantic circular upper air weather pattern in the Arctic region enveloping the North Pole — splitting into three pieces in late December because of an occasional weather condition called “sudden stratospheric warming.”

One chunk of that trapped cold air went to Siberia, another to Scandinavia, and the third piece is heading through Canada. On Wednesday, it will be over northern Michigan, he said.

Temperatures may tumble to 40 below in the northernmost U.S., AccuWeather said.

The cold will impact much of the eastern half of the country and dive deep into the southern U.S., with temperatures expected to be 10 to 20 degrees below normal in Florida.

“The end of January will bring the coldest air of the season for the Midwest and rival the Arctic blast from earlier this week in the Northeast,” AccuWeather lead long-range meteorologist Paul Pastelok said in a news release.

The last polar vortex to hit the U.S. was five years ago.

“Latest indications are that Chicago could set a record on Wednesday for the day’s lowest high temperature,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines said in a news release, noting that temperatures have not been below zero for an entire day in Chicago since Jan. 6, 2014.

Pastelok anticipates the harsh cold to ease somewhat across the eastern half of the U.S. during the first weekend of February.

“However, below-normal conditions can still be anticipated in the Upper Midwest and Northeast,” he said. “Any cold for the rest of winter may not be as long and as extreme, especially for the Plains and Midwest.”

In Madison on Sunday, look for increasing clouds, with a high near 8 and northwest winds at 5 to 10 miles per hour turning out of the south in the afternoon and producing wind chill values of 5 below to 15 below.

Overnight into Monday, the snow should fall mainly after 8 p.m. and before 11 a.m. with 5 to 8 inches overnight and 1 to 2 inches on Monday, the Weather Service said.

Temperatures should rise to around 18 by 5 a.m. and peak at 20 on Monday, before falling to 4 below overnight Monday into Tuesday as winds increase to 10 to 20 mph and gust to 25 mph.

There’s a 30 percent chance for snow Thursday and Friday and 20 percent Saturday.

Skies over Madison should be partly sunny Tuesday and Wednesday, mostly sunny Thursday and Friday, and partly sunny Saturday, with highs near 1 below, 12 below, 1, 12 and 28, and lows Tuesday night through Friday night around 20 below, 20 below, 6 below and 2.

27 Storm Track meteorologist Guy Brown forecasts snow developing Sunday evening and continuing until late afternoon to early evening Monday, with 6 to 10 inches south of Dane County and 8 to 12 inches north of Dane County.

Brown said quiet but bitterly cold weather will follow, with just a little light snow possible Thursday, and the cold snap breaking on Saturday.

Skies over Madison should be partly sunny to mostly cloudy Sunday, cloudy Monday, partly sunny Tuesday and Wednesday, increasingly cloudy Thursday, partly sunny Friday and Saturday, and mostly cloudy next Sunday, with highs near 8, 19, 3 below, 13 below, 1 below, 8, 25 and 21, and overnight lows around 5, 5 below, 25 below, 24 below, 5 below, 4, 15 and 17.

Saturday’s high in Madison was 4 at 9:54 p.m., 23 degrees below the normal high and 52 degrees below the record high of 56 for Jan. 26, set in 1944.

Saturday’s low in Madison was a record 23 below at 5:22 a.m., 34 degrees below the normal low and breaking the old record of 21 below set in 1963.

Officially, 0.03 inches of precipitation was recorded at the Dane County Regional Airport on Saturday, boosting Madison’s January and 2019 precipitation total (rain plus snow converted to liquid) to 2.06 inches, 1.03 inches above normal. The meteorological winter (December through February) total rose to 4.16 inches, 1.39 inches above normal.

Madison’s record precipitation for Jan. 26 is 1.15 inches, set in 1974.

Officially, 0.9 inches of snow was recorded at the Dane County Regional Airport on Saturday, boosting Madison’s January and 2019 snow total to 12.8 inches, 2 inches above normal. For meteorological winter, Madison has received 18.7 inches, 5.6 inches below normal. For the snow season (since July 1), Madison has received 22.1 inches, 6.3 inches below normal.

Madison’s record snowfall for Jan. 26 is 12.6 inches, set in 1996.

Madison’s official snow depth is 7 inches.

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