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What may go down as one of the most historic weeks in Wisconsin weather history started off with heavy snow on Sunday night and will continue with incredible and potentially record-setting cold, according to forecasters.
A winter storm warning is in effect for southern Wisconsin until 6 p.m. Monday, with 6 to 13 inches predicted to fall, tapering off from west to east, the National Weather Service said.
The most snow will fall to the north of Madison and the least to the south and west.
The snow started Sunday night and fell at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour overnight. The worst of the snow was over in Madison by daybreak, with only another inch or two predicted during the day.
But strong winds will make for treacherous travel conditions even after the powdery snow ends. For the latest travel conditions, call 511 or go to the state’s 511 road conditions website.
Winds are forecast to gust to 30 mph in southern Wisconsin on Monday, and gusts of 50 mph or more are possible from eastern Montana to Nebraska and Kansas through Monday, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said in a news release.
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And then the bigger story begins as the first powerful “polar vortex” to hit the area in five winters sends temperatures tumbling below zero overnight, not to climb back above zero until Friday perhaps, which would be rare for Madison: In records dating back to 1869 there have been just 13 times that Madison went three straight days staying below zero, according to data from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center. The last time was February 1996, when the low bottomed out at 29 below.
Wind chill values are expected to plunge to 20 below to 33 below overnight, and bottom out at 40 below to 55 below at times from Tuesday night through Thursday night, when actual temperatures are predicted to range from 20 below to 30 below.
“This will be one of the coldest stretches of temperatures and wind chills we have ever seen,” the Weather Service warned.
Frostbite can occur in minutes for exposed skin in such cold.
Madison’s coldest actual temperature was 37 below on Jan. 30, 1951, and the worst wind chill ever was 54.3 below on Jan. 20, 1985. The former record should be safe, but the latter could be broken.
But it could be worse: On Sunday morning, International Falls, Minn, set a record for the date for actual temperature at 45 below, shattering the prior record of 36 below from 1966.
And on Tuesday night, widespread lows under 30 below will grip much of North Dakota, eastern South Dakota and Minnesota, while Chicago may reach 25 below for the first time since the mid-1980s. And Wednesday night may be just as cold, if not colder than, Tuesday night in many areas, AccuWeather said.
"Some locations in the Midwest will be below zero continuously for 48-72 hours," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Mike Doll said in a news release. “I cannot stress how dangerously cold it will be. An entire generation has gone by without experiencing this type of cold in the Chicago area."
In Madison on Monday, the snow should end by 4 p.m., with temperatures falling from 17 just before 7 a.m. to around 12 by 5 p.m., east winds at 15 to 20 mph turning out of the north in the afternoon, the Weather Service said.
The overnight low should be around 6 below, with west winds of 10 to 15 mph producing wind chill values of 10 below to 20 below.
Tuesday’s high should only reach near 3 below under partly sunny skies, with west winds at 15 to 20 mph and gusting to 30 mph producing wind chill values of 20 below to 30 below.
Overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, the low should plunge to 23 below, with west winds at 15 mph and gusting to 30 mph producing horrendous wind chill values of 40 below to 50 below.
Wednesday’s high is expected near 13 below under mostly sunny skies, followed by a low overnight Wednesday into Thursday around 27 below, with west winds at 10 to 15 mph.
Madison’s all-time lowest high is 19 below on Dec. 21, 1872, so that record appears safe this week.
After a high near 3 below Thursday and low Thursday night around 6 below, the deep freeze eases, with highs expected Friday through Sunday near 19, 37 and 40, and lows Friday night and Saturday night and Sunday night around 12 and 32.
There’s a 20 percent chance for snow Thursday night, a 20 percent chance for rains and snow Saturday, 40 percent Saturday night, and 50 percent Sunday.
27 Storm Track meteorologist Branden Borremans forecasts 1 to 3 inches of snow in Madison during the day Monday, ending by mid-afternoon, with a high near 19 before temperatures starting falling.
Borremans expects lows Monday night through Thursday night around 7 below, 25 below, 29 below and 7 below, and highs Tuesday through Thursday around 2 below 13 below and 4 below.
The warming trend will push highs to 17, 36, 38 and 27, Friday through next Monday, with overnight lows around 13, 32, 25 and 12, a light mix possible Saturday into Sunday, and snow possible next Monday.
Sunday’s high in Madison was 4 at 4:03 p.m., 23 degrees below the normal high and 51 degrees below the record high of 55 for Jan. 27, set in 2002.
Sunday’s low in Madison was 12 below at 7:08 a.m., 23 degrees below the normal low and 7 degrees above the record low of 19 below for Jan. 27, set in 1915.
Officially, 0.06 inches of precipitation was recorded at the Dane County Regional Airport on Sunday, boosting Madison’s January and 2019 precipitation total (rain plus snow converted to liquid) to 2.12 inches, 1.05 inches above normal. The meteorological winter (December through February) total rose to 4.22 inches, 1.41 inches above normal.
Madison’s record precipitation for Jan. 27 is 1.14 inches, set in 1944.
Officially, 1.2 inches of snow was recorded at the Dane County Regional Airport on Sunday, boosting Madison’s January and 2019 snow total to 13.6 inches, 2.4 inches above normal. For meteorological winter, Madison has received 19.5 inches, 5.2 inches below normal. For the snow season (since July 1), Madison has received 22.9 inches, 5.9 inches below normal.
Madison’s record snowfall for Jan. 27 is 5.4 inches, set in 1949.
Madison’s official snow depth is 7 inches.
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