Arctic Cold Outbreak Will Remain in Midwest, South and East Through Christmas

A​ dangerous arctic outbreak has delivered some of the coldest weather in decades to parts of the Rockies and Northern Plains, and is sweeping into the Deep South and East where it will linger through the Christmas holiday weekend.

H​ere’s a look at some of the notables about this arctic plunge that we’ve seen so far plus details on what’s to come.

C​old Notables So Far

-C​heyenne, Wyoming, saw its temperature plunge 40 degrees colder in 30 minutes on Wednesday. That broke the city’s record for its largest temperature drop in an hour or less.

-A​t least one preliminary all-time record low has been set so far. Casper, Wyoming, dropped to minus 42 degrees early Thursday morning, which is the coldest temperature there in records dating to 1939. Bozeman, Montana, fell just one degree shy of tying its all-time record, when they plunged to minus 45 degrees Thursday morning.

-Elk Park, Montana, has recorded the coldest temperature (minus 50 degees) and wind chill (minus 74 degrees) anywhere in the Lower 48 Thursday morning. Minus 50-degree cold typically happens in Montana every other winter. 

-​Denver saw its coldest air in a generation Thursday morning. Temperatures dropped to minus 24 degrees, which was the coldest the city has seen since December 22,1990. It was also their second coldest day, when taking into account both the high (minus 6 degrees) and low, dating to 1872. 

-​Wichita, Kansas, had its coldest wind chill (minus 32 degrees) this century. 

-​Nashville, Tennessee, dropped below zero for the first time in over 26 years, but it wasn’t close to setting even a daily record low. 

I​n general, it’s been the coldest in a few decades in parts of the Northern Rockies and Front Range, but this outbreak has set very few all-time records. 

Forecast: Plains, Midwest

Wind chill alerts have been issued by the National Weather Service for almost 200 million people, from the Canadian border to the Southeast and Northeast, even as far south as Florida and the Rio Grande Valley.

S​ubzero lows this weekend are forecast as far south and east as parts of Kansas to the Ohio Valley and Appalachians.

L​ows in the minus teens will be common this weekend in parts of the Northern Plains and upper Midwest. A few minus 20s are possible in some of the coldest spots of the Dakotas and Minnesota.

Daytime highs in parts of the Dakotas may not rise above zero for several days in a row. Bismarck, North Dakota, may not rise above zero until Christmas Day. That said, it will be far from their record-long such streak of 15 straight days set in February 1936. 

S​trong winds will lead to dangerously low wind chills. Wind chills of minus 30 degrees or colder are a good bet from the Northern and Central Plains into the Midwest. 

W​ind chills this low can lead to frostbite on exposed skin in 10 min or less.

Forecast: South

The arctic front will nosedive through the rest of the Southeast – including all of Florida – Friday.

Below-freezing air will penetrate through Texas, the northern Gulf Coast and northern and central Florida for multiple days. 

W​e expect temperatures to remain near or below freezing in most of Texas, including Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin and Houston until Saturday afternoon. After that, temperatures will gradually warm into next week.

This cold snap will not be anywhere near as cold, nor last as long, as the damaging February 2021 cold snap. In that historic outbreak, Dallas plunged to minus 2 degrees and Austin spent 144 straight hours below freezing. 

I​n Florida, morning lows will plunge into the teens and 20s in north Florida, low-mid 30s in central Florida, and 40s in South Florida on Christmas weekend. A frost and freeze is possible as far south as central Florida both Saturday and Sunday morning. 

T​his will certainly be cold, but not nearly as cold as the December 1983 and 1989 record cold snaps in the Sunshine State. In the Christmas 1983 outbreak, Jacksonville plunged to 11 degrees, Orlando to 20 degrees and Tampa to 19 degrees, all much colder than the current forecast in that 1983 outbreak. Miami had a freeze on Christmas morning, 1989 (30 degrees). And unlike the 1989 event, there won’t be any snow in Florida.

E​lsewhere in the Southeast, morning lows in the single digits or teens are expected from Arkansas to the Tennessee Valley. Teens and 20s will be common elsewhere in the Deep South. 

W​ind chills will also be dangerously cold in the South.

Below is a look at how cold wind chills could be Saturday morning, but keep in mind these bitterly cold feels like temperatures will last much longer in the South into the Christmas holiday weekend. 

If you can’t wait for this excessive cold to leave, there is some good news after Christmas. 

C​omputer forecast models suggest this bitter cold will gradually erode later next week, first in the West and Plains, then gradually working into the rest of the country mid-late next week. 

B​y that time, high temperatures will be near or warmer than average over much of the country.