David Epstein: What to know about the upcoming cold weather

Thursday is going to be one of the colder days of the winter, but not as cold as the arctic outbreak we experienced midway through January.

Pedestrians in Boston bundled up against the cold Tuesday. –Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe

By 1 a.m. Wednesday, the temperature in Chicago was 13 degrees below zero, and it’s only been going down since then. Wind chills are continuing in the -30 to -50 degree range.

That is some incredibly dangerous cold weather, and it reflects some of the chilliest temperatures we’ve seen in the United States.

The good news for the Midwest is the core of the cold air will lift into Canada later Thursday. As it does, it will clip New England and Boston, bringing with it a couple of days of arctic temperatures.

Wednesday morning temperatures in Chicago were well below zero. —NOAA Data

The boundary between the frigid air and the typically seasonable air is an arctic front that will be pushing east this afternoon. Before it arrives, temperatures will remain in the 20s. As the front reaches western New England, a line of snow squalls accompanies it. Meteorologically, this is very similar to the line of showers and thunderstorms we would see with a cold front moving through in the summer.


These snow squalls can produce brief, intense periods of falling flakes — anywhere from a coating up to half an inch of snow in a very short period of time. Visibility can reach near zero for a few minutes during these periods, so if you get caught driving in one, it’s a good idea to pull over and wait for it to pass.

Once the snow showers have passed, the cold air will come in behind them and, as temperatures decrease, winds will increase. This will bring about wind chills in the -10 to -20 degree range and so a wind chill advisory has been issued. These are wind chills cold enough to induce frostbite on skin exposed for 30 minutes or longer, so bundle up out there.

It’s worth noting these are not the extreme wind chills that they are enduring in the Midwest, which are much worse.

Early morning wind chills for Thursday. —Dave Epstein/NOAA Data

Thursday is going to be one of the colder days of the winter, but not as cold as the arctic outbreak we experienced midway through January. The most intense part of the day will be the morning, when wind chills will be at their lowest.

Temperatures will be within a few degrees of zero Thursday morning. —Dave Epstein/NOAA Data

The record low for Thursday’s date is -8 degrees, set in 1920. That day the high was only 12 degrees. This year, although it will be cold, don’t expect any records as Boston’s high will be near 15 degrees.

Highs will be in the mid-teens Thursday. —NOAA

This cold doesn’t have staying power


All this cold, arctic air will be retreating into Canada Thursday night into Friday. Although Friday morning will be chilly, winds will be lighter. By afternoon, temperatures will be back into the 20s. As has been the case this entire winter, the cold just won’t last; temperatures will become more moderate through the weekend, climbing to 40 degrees by Sunday. In fact, it will become so warm early next week that any precipitation that falls will be in the form of rain.

But forget the cold for a moment. In our region, the bigger interest seems to be in this winter’s lack of snow. Any year that has seen this little snow through this point has never ended with a blockbuster snow total at the end of the season. Sorry to say, but that new snowblower you picked up over the holidays is just going to have to sit idle for at least another couple of weeks.