Polar Vortex breaks Iowa cold records

Temperatures dipped well below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit in Iowa on Wednesday (flickr).

Julia Poska | January 31, 2019

Early Wednesday morning, while many across Iowa were still asleep, records were broken by the so-called “Polar Vortex” over the Midwest. Before 4 a.m. Des Moines saw a minus 20 degree temperature, making it the coldest Jan. 30 the city has seen in recent history. Waterloo got an even colder minus 24 degrees, breaking the same record in that city. Farther north, temperatures reached minus 29 degrees, as reported by the Des Moines Register.

Windchill made the cold temperatures feel even more brutal. In Cedar Rapids, windchill Wednesday morning reached minus 55 degrees, a tie with the 1985 record for the coldest windchill ever recorded there. According to the Registerwinds were steadily between 15 and 25 mph, but at times blew into the mid-30s.

Climate change and extreme cold

Some studies suggest that such extreme “Polar Vortex” events in the Midwest could become more common with climate change, though more research needs to be done to make a definitive call on the matter.

It appears that warmer arctic temperatures cause the jet stream, a westerly moving band of air circling the northern part of the globe, to dip farther south, bringing the North Pole’s extreme cold into the United States. Read this article from National Geographic for a more in-depth look at the science.

On the Radio: Bitter and snowy winter predicted

A snowy farm in rural Iowa. (Alexandra Stevenson/Flickr)
A snowy farm in rural Iowa. (Alexandra Stevenson/Flickr)
October 27, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at brisk temperature and precipitation predictions for the coming winter. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.


Iowans should brace for another “bitter and snowy” winter if predictions from the Farmer’s Almanac are correct.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Farmer’s Almanac was first published in 1792 and supplies farmers with weather predictions using its own unique formula which takes into account temperatures and precipitation levels as well as sunspot activity over the past 30 years. This year’s forecast calls for the coldest period to be between early December and about halfway through January.

Snowy periods are expected to hit mid-December, early February and again in March. Temperatures in April and May are expected to be higher than usual while precipitation levels look to be below normal.

Last winter was the coldest Iowa has seen in 35 years and ranked as the 9th coldest winter in Iowa since record keeping began in 1872.

For more information about these weather predictions, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.