Wintry week looms as arctic air invades

10:51 PM, Feb 23, 2014   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) - It's back.

After a brief tease of spring, this winter's favorite whipping boy - a piece of the polar vortex - returns this week with a punishing blast of frigid air for much of the central and eastern USA.

"Record cold temperatures are possible for the High Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes later this week," the National Weather Service warned in an online report.

These areas will endure several days of high temperatures only in the teens and single digits, AccuWeather predicts. This includes cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo.

Some locations will see temperatures that are as much as 40 degrees below average by midweek, according to the weather service.

The culprit is a piece of the polar vortex, which again will dive south into the eastern U.S. this week, as has been the case a few times this winter.

"The polar vortex is essentially a mass of very cold air that usually hangs out above the Arctic Circle and is contained by strong winds," stated AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Frigid air will first impact the northern Plains on Monday, the weather service predicts, before diving south and east throughout the week.

By Wednesday, areas around the Great Lakes will have single-digit high temperatures, while parts of the Tennessee Valley will struggle to rise above freezing.

The unusual cold is forecast to stick around at least into the first week of March, according to the Climate Prediction Center, with the worst of the cold centered around the upper Midwest.

In addition to the cold, the Northeast - including the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to New York City to Boston - could see a disruptive snowstorm by midweek, AccuWeather forecasts.

The cold snap will be most unwelcome in the Midwest, which has seen a brutal winter so far. Several cities in the Midwest have seen a top 10 coldest February, the Weather Channel reports, including Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Green Bay.

Detroit has had its coldest winter since 1978-79, and its eighth-coldest winter-to-date. Duluth, Minn., has already broken its record of 59 days when the temperature has dropped below zero.

In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the coming cold spell will likely push the Twin Cities into the top 10 for the most subzero temperatures ever recorded in a season, according to The Weather Channel.

Meanwhile, in the West, some very welcome rain and snow is forecast later this week in parched California, according to the weather service. One storm should hit Wednesday, with another stronger one expected by Friday into Saturday.