The winter’s most severe and dangerous outbreak of frigid temperatures and fierce winds slammed into the Berkshires before dawn Friday. The worst of the polar vortex is expected on Saturday, with winds gusting up to 40 mph and early-morning temperature readings from minus 10 to minus 15. Windchills could reach 40 below zero.
“The bottom line is it will be dangerous to be outdoors with risk of rapid frostbite,” government forecaster Joe Villani warned in an online analysis. “With sunshine, it may ‘look nice’ outside but it certainly won’t ‘feel nice.’”
The previous record low for Feb. 4 at Pittsfield Municipal Airport was 10 below zero in 1965. A new record may be set, and Saturday could be the coldest day here since Feb. 14, 2016, when it was minus 19. More recently, it was 12 below on Jan. 22, 2022.
But there’s good news from the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y. The howling winds should ease by Saturday afternoon, when the windchill warning expires.
With lengthening and gradually stronger sunlight, it should feel more tolerable outside on Sunday.
In a remarkably quick turnaround, temperatures will start recovering, returning to above normal for early February next week. “Normal” means a low in the mid-teens and a high in the low-30s.
No accumulating snowfall is in the forecast, but rain showers are possible Tuesday night and again on Thursday. By mid-week and beyond, daytime highs and overnight lows will be significantly above average.
The federal Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for Feb. 10-16 includes a strong signal for above-normal temperatures, and a likelihood of slightly above average precipitation, most likely rain rather than snow.
First, a quick look-back: The severe ice storm from Texas to Tennessee this past week not only claimed at least 10 lives, but also triggered widespread power disruptions, chaotic road conditions, the cancellations and delays of thousands of flights. The preliminary damage estimate ranges from $10 billion to $12 billion, according to AccuWeather.
It would have been much worse if the power grid in Texas had not held up, said Jonathan Porter, AccuWeather chief meteorologist in an email. Still, there was significant damage to power lines and transmission equipment in the hardest-hit areas, especially near Austin. It may take up to a week or more for power to be completely restored.
AccuWeather’s estimate is based on the near shutdown of travel over a large area, preventing business and productivity, downed trees and power lines and resulting damage to homes and businesses, damage to automobiles from traffic accidents and deaths and injuries resulting from the storm.
Following some weekend rain, South Florida’s daytime highs should approach 80 under partly sunny skies next week. On the Gulf Coast from Tampa-St. Pete to Naples, after showers Sunday the rest of the week will be mostly sunny with highs in the low 80s.
After a chilly weekend with highs only in the 40s, the Carolinas should see plenty of sunshine during the week ahead, with highs in the 60s.
Elsewhere, moderate rainfall is likely along the West Coast, with more snowfall inland at higher elevations, as well as across the Southern Plains and lower Mississippi Valley and surrounding areas by midweek.
After a record mild January in the Berkshires and statewide, the frigid start to February may seem especially startling.
“We get used to warmer winters,” said Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric science specialist who serves as chief scientist for the nonprofit Nature Conservancy. “So when we have a flashback to the way winter used to be 30 or 40 years ago, it can come as a shock.”
“Weather whiplash” is one term used by scientists to describe the extremes becoming more common because of climate change.
“When you say global warming, everybody expects it to be warmer all the time, but what’s really happening is that our weather patterns are being disrupted overall and we’re seeing more variability,” Hayhoe told the Boston Globe. “That’s why I often refer to what we’re seeing as ‘global weirding.’"