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Midwest Cold Snap Could Be Worst In A Decade

Snow on highway
Rogelio V. Solis
Associated Press

Update Jan. 30: The Ohio State University will reopen Thursday, but classes that start before 11 a.m. are canceled. Columbus City Schools has canceled all classes and activities Thursday as well, although Mayor Andrew Ginther's "State Of The City" address will continue as planned.

The National Weather Service is predicting a cold snap Tuesday night with a wind chill warning in effect through Thursday. Though there's little snow expected, Wednesday morning may bring temperatures as low as -8 degrees in Columbus.

NBC 4 Meteorologist Ben Gelber says that between late Tuesday and mid-Thursday, wind chill will be in the -20 to -40 range.

"During the daytime hours on Wednesday, we'll be lucky to get above 0," Gelber says. "It's exceptional to have what's called a zero daylight period." 

Ahead of the temperature drop, The Ohio State University canceled classes at its Columbus, Lima, Marion, Mansfield and Wooster campuses.

Columbus City Schools have canceledclasses and activities Wednesday, as have other Central Ohio districts including Hilliard, Worthington, Westerville, Canal Winchester, Delaware, Gahanna and more.

Columbus Recreation and Parks has extendedcommunity center hoursfrom 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday due to the extreme cold. A list of Winter Warming Stations has also been compiledby the Community Service Council.

Gelber attributes the freezing temperatures to a polar vortex displaced from the North Pole that's settling around the Great Lakes region.

"That puts us on the fringe of about a cold an air mass as we can experience here," he says. "And it will be reminscent of five years ago, when we had a direct shot from the polar vortex that settled right over northern Ohio."

Gelber says that lows this extreme happen once or twice a decade.

"This could be a top 10 as far as windchills on record. So it could be essentially a once-a-decade experience," he says.

But it's not here to stay for long.

"We'll bounce back into the 30s on Saturday and the 40s on Sunday, which will feel relatively springlike," he says. "And I don't see another lobe of that extraordinary cold air coming back any time soon."

So while we may have typical winter weather in February, Gelber believes this will be the worst Columbus experiences, both this season and in the past 10 years.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.