Windrills are expected to bottom out between minus-50 and minus-65 in northern and western Maine and may even drop to about minus-100 at New England’s highest spot, the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Until Friday afternoon, chills had already fallen in the air min-80s on Mount Washington and in the min-40 in Upstate New York and northern Maine.
The National Weather Service warned that such chills are “life-threatening” and can lead to frostbite in five minutes.
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Actual air temperatures are expected to dip below zero Friday night across much of New England and the inland Northeast. In Boston, it is predicted to be the coldest since 2016.
While chills will flirt with records, especially in western and northern New England, the piercing cold caused by this polar vortex lobe intrusion is mercifully in the rear view by the end of the weekend.
The most abnormal cold on Earth
A huge area of temperatures about 30 to 40 degrees below normal will cover New England and much of southeastern Canada through Friday evening. Absolute temperatures may be a bit colder in northern Siberia, but the cold over northeastern North America is much more anomalous.
Friday night’s expected low of about minus 17 degrees in Burlington, Vt., is 26 degrees below normal, while Boston’s predicted low of minus 6 degrees is 27 degrees below normal. At the top of Mount Washington, the predicted low of -46 degrees is about 40 degrees below normal.
Wind chill in most of New England is expected to dip to -20 degrees or lower through early Saturday. Many of the Weather Service’s minimum wind chill forecasts are really extreme and could be the lowest in at least 50 years in some locations.
Mount Washington is expected to experience a minimum wind chill of minus -105.4 degrees, which would surpass the record -102.7 degrees of minus -102.7 degrees set in 2004. Winds at the manned observatory are expected to blow up to 101 mph sustained, with gusts around 128 mph.
Outside of the mountains, the town of Greenville in central Maine expects a wind chill of -62.6 degrees. Berlin in northern New Hampshire can drop to -53 degrees. Saranac Lake in northern New York can drop to -49.3 degrees.
Caribou in northern Maine is expected to see a wind chill of minus 54 degrees, close to a record low of minus 58.6 degrees. Montpelier, Vt., will see a wind chill of minus 41 degrees, compared to the record low of minus 52.3 in 1981. Boston expects a minimum wind chill of minus 31 degrees. The record there is -38.6 degrees, set in 1957.
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This shot of cold is made much worse by high winds. Winds will peak Friday night into Saturday in most places, with sustained levels of 20 to 35 mph, and perhaps as high as hurricane-force winds sustained in the mountains of northern New England.
Blizzard warnings have been issued for northern Maine, where wind gusts of about 45 to 55 mph are expected. While not much new snow will fall, squalls can cause temporary whiteouts from falling flakes. There is also lots of snow on the ground waiting to be blown around and drop sight.
Wind gusts of 40 mph or higher should visit most spots north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut can also get wind gusts of up to 50 mph. In New England mountain ranges, wind gusts will approach or exceed 100 mph.
A taste of the stratosphere
In addition to the potential for minus-100 degree chills, Mount Washington could be in the stratosphere Friday evening as a lobe of the polar vortex moves south. The atmosphere becomes more compressed as it cools, meaning that the boundary between the two lowest layers, the troposphere and the stratosphere, known as the tropopause, will decrease in height.
“An unusual phenomenon for our area is possible [Friday] night, with guidance indicating that the tropopause could dip below the summit of Mount Washington,” wrote the Weather Service office in Gray, Maine. “While this is extremely rare, the impact of this is that winds are likely to increase [as it passes].”
Intrepid observers at the top can even smell the ozone layer, as it sits low in the stratosphere.
Quick in and quick out
Almost as quickly as this Arctic outbreak arrives, it disappears.
Lobes of the polar vortex tend to move quickly. And in this case, it is gone in about 36 hours.
But historically, cold air is expected in the meantime. Numerous record cold high temperatures are forecast in the Northeast on Friday and Saturday, along with several Saturday morning lows:
- Boston will drop to minus 6 degrees on Saturday morning, which would surpass the all-time record of minus 2 degrees set on Feb. 4.
- New York City will be close to record lows, with readings near 10 degrees.
- Newcomb, in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, is expected to drop to minus 25 degrees, surpassing the record low of minus 23 degrees set on Feb. 4.
January’s warmth was unprecedented across much of the Northeast
But next week, temperatures are likely to be about 10 to 15 degrees above normal in much of the same area, a return to the milder-than-average weather that prevailed for much of the winter.