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Millions locked in a deep freeze as arctic air leads to coldest day since 2019

Wind chills Tuesday morning were as cold as 30 degrees below zero in some spots. Temperatures that cold can lead to frostbite in mere minutes.

Millions of people woke up under wind chill alerts Tuesday morning ahead of what will be not only the coldest day of the week but also the coldest day in three years for parts of the Upper Midwest, the Great Lakes and the Northeast. 

Air temperatures at sunrise were in the single digits to below zero, with wind chills as cold as 30 degrees below zero across northern New England.

In fact, the air was so cold that it could be seen from space on infrared satellite imagery.

High temperatures were forecast Tuesday to be a chilling 15 to 30 degrees below average, especially across the Northeast. That means highs in the teens and 20s for most areas.

It will be the coldest afternoon since 2019 in New York, where a high temperature of 22 was forecast, and Boston, with a high of 12.

Boston’s public school system, the largest in Massachusetts, announced Monday that schools would not open Tuesday because extremely cold temperatures were expected. The New Hampshire Health and Human Services Department announced Monday that four Covid-19 testing sites overseen by the state would be closed Tuesday because of the cold.

The good news is that the cold blast will be short, with temperatures rebounding by Wednesday and expected to be warmer through the end of the week.

Adding to the shock to the system is that the continental U.S. just came off its warmest December on record, which helped make 2021 the fourth-warmest year on record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 10 states — Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas — all had their warmest Decembers on record.

The record warmth fueled multiple tornado outbreaks, leading to 193 confirmed tornadoes, the most December tornadoes on record.

Looking at 2021 as a whole, the average temperature in the 48 contiguous states was 54.5 degrees, a staggering 2.5 degrees above the 20th-century average.

The six warmest years on record have all occurred since 2012.

Maine and New Hampshire had their second-warmest years on record, and 19 more states across the Northeast, the Great Lakes, the Plains and the West had top-five warmest years.