"Polar Vortex" Makes Driving Dangerous in Mid-West

by Jana Ritter - Published: 1/06/2014

Frigid, dense air has much of the U.S feeling more like the North Pole and even forcing some cities to basically shut down. The dangerous cold that has already broke decades-old records had even the most experienced of truck drivers choosing to wait out the storm Sunday.

Temperature scale

Although some did decide to brave the conditions, others said visibility was so poor; trying to make the trip just wasn't worth it.  One truck stop in Troy, Ill. was full of drivers who had stopped to let the storm pass. “White-out conditions are always really bad, and one minute you can see fine then the next minute I can't even see the end of my hood. So this load's not that important, it can wait another day," said truck driver Rick Barton. Barton probably made a good call because just west of Troy, crews found a semi on its side.

While Illinois is the hardest hit, wind chill warnings stretched from Montana to Alabama and for a big chunk of the Midwest, more than a foot of snow and high winds has made traveling treacherous. The forecast is extreme: Wind chills were expected to drop as low as negative 55 Monday night in International Falls, Minn., and rebound to minus 25 to minus 35 on Tuesday. Farther south, the wind chill is expected to hit negative 50 in Chicago and minus 35 in Detroit.

School systems and day cares shut down as a precaution from the Dakotas to Maryland. But whether residents chose to stay home or head outside appeared to have less to do with the mercury and more with conditioning. In Indiana, where many roads were rendered impassable because of snow and wind, authorities had a simple message: stay home. "I know the roads look clear, the sun's out and it all looks nice," Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said Monday. "But it's still minus 40 in wind chill — deadly temperatures. So we want to be very, very careful."

Ballard issued a travel ban for the city, making it illegal for anyone to drive except for emergencies or to seek shelter, until noon Monday. But he wants schools and businesses to remain closed another day until the worst of the severe cold passes.

It hasn't been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the country. The National Weather Service said the temperature sank to 16 degrees below zero at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, two degrees lower than the record for Jan. 6. Weekend snowfall at the airport totaled more than 11 inches — the most since a February 2011 storm that shut down the city's famed Lake Shore Drive.

Southern states were bracing for possible record temperatures too, with single-digit highs expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.