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Preparing For The 2019 Polar Vortex

General Expertise, HVAC, Plumbing, Potpourri
By on Jan 29, 2019
Preparing For The 2019 Polar Vortex

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Extreme cold temperatures will be hitting the Midwest this week, with the Wednesday weather forecast suggesting wind chills as low as -60 degrees to reach Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit. Chicago public schools and regional businesses have already announced closures for the week.

According to the National Weather Service in Chicago, these extreme temperatures are expected to hit an all-time low record, with the closest reported temperatures last seen in 1994 at -11 as the high. Here’s how to prepare for the polar vortex.

A working heater is not a nice-to-have feature, but a necessity during extreme cold. If yours is in need of repairs, contact an HVAC pro who can help.

What Is A Polar Vortex?

If you live in the Midwest, you’ve likely heard the term “polar vortex” in the last few years as many cities have experienced subzero temperatures during the winter. While it may sound like a phrase that’s out of this world, it actually has meteorological meaning. The National Weather Service defines a polar vortex as an area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both the earth’s poles. While it always exists, it strengthened in the winter and can even expand, sending the cold air south. While not a new term in the field of meteorology, the term became more widely used in recent years. It was heard was in 2014 and many people have taken notice of these extreme conditions ever since.

It’s no joke that a polar vortex can be life-threatening. This year’s life-threatening polar vortex is said to put people at risk of frostbite and hypothermia, after spending only a few minutes outdoors. So, it’s important to know how to care for your family, home, and pets during this extreme cold.

Cold Weather Care For Your Family

As mentioned earlier, there are already schools and businesses closing throughout the Midwest. Many news outlets and services are urging people to stay inside, as these life-threatening temperatures approach. If you have to go outside, it’s important to know the signs of both hypothermia and frostbite.


You might be surprised to learn that it doesn’t take too long to start seeing symptoms of frostbite. In the extreme cold expected on Wednesday, it could take as little as 5 minutes. Frostbite is common in extremities that are exposed to the cold such as your ears, fingers, nose, and toes. The CDC warns that Frostbite can lead to permanent damage to your body. Here are a few signs they share of how to recognize it:

  • Redness or pain on the skin indicates frostbite is beginning
  • Numbness
  • Unusually firm or waxy skin

If you experience any of these symptoms, you must seek warmth as soon as possible. Do not use the affected area, such as your hands or feet. Avoid massaging the area to warm it up and instead use hot water.

If you must go outside in the polar vortex, stay covered up completely. Any skin that’s exposed is at risk of frostbite immediately. See these tips from the CDC on how you can protect yourself from frostbite.


Another concern during extreme cold is hypothermia. The CDC explains this occurs when the body is exposed to very cold temperatures for a prolonged time. The body loses heat faster than produced. One of the biggest concerns with hypothermia is that it affects the brain, making the victim unable to think or move. A few signs of hypothermia the CDC describes are:

  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands

Any person experiencing these symptoms must find shelter immediately. Wet clothing should be removed as soon as possible and use a warm beverage, such as tea, to help warm the body. Calling 911 may be necessary as well so proper care can be given.

Like frostbite, the easiest way to avoid this is to stay indoors during the polar vortex. Making sure your home is prepared for cold weather is the next step.

Cold Weather Care For Your Home

Staying inside your home is the most advisable safety step you can take during the polar vortex of 2019. However, you must be sure your home is prepared to shelter you from the cold. Local Chicago weatherman, Tom Skilling said in the New York Times that it’s possible to hear buildings and objects creaking due to the extremely low-temperature change. While you don’t need to panic, it’s time to prepare.

Is your home ready for the cold? Find contractors in your area.


Your HVAC system will be your first line of defense during the polar vortex. All homes will be susceptible to the cold, but older houses may find it more difficult to keep temperatures comfortable. It’s a good idea to set your home’s temperature at least two degrees above normal and turn off any auto settings you may have if you have a smart thermometer.

To help your heater run more effectively, close your blinds or curtains to keep heat from escaping through the window. You might also be surprised to learn that locking your windows can help prevent drafts by sealing out the cold air.


A big concern for homeowners during extreme cold is freezing and bursting pipes. Damage from this type of event can be extremely expensive, not to mention it could cause a big mess! Leaving a small trickle of water running through your faucet of both hot and cold can keep water moving and prevent it from freezing. This is especially important for faucets that face an exterior wall, as these tend to be the first to freeze. You can also leave cabinets doors open to help heat from your home circulate towards your pipes.

If you do have a burst pipe, don’t wait. Contact a plumber immediately.

Cold Weather Care For Your Pets

Let’s not forget about our furry friends during cold weather. It’s crucial that dogs and cats (yes, even your outdoor cat!) remain inside during these extremely low temperatures. The smaller the animal, the quicker the extreme cold will affect them. They too can experience frostbite. The Humane Society recommends bundling up your dogs if they have to go outside and make sure their paws are covered too.

It’s not always the cold that can impact pets, but the chemicals around them. Wiping down their paws after returning inside to remove salt and other ice-melting chemicals can help them stay healthy.

Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s certainly too cold for them. This is a great chart I like to use during the winter to help. Limit their time outside to keep pets safe during the polar vortex.


Though a polar vortex isn’t new, these temperatures in the Midwest region are. Stay safe during the extreme cold with these tips.

Read How To Keep Your House Warm In The Winter for more tips.

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