A "generational" polar vortex of near-unprecedented crippling cold is set to descend upon the Midwest and Great Lakes Region this week. Unlike previous bursts of bone-chilling Arctic air, this particular mass will be fueled by strong winds, dropping wind chill values in some parts of the northern Plains and Great Lakes region to as low as as minus 30 to minus 60 degrees. (And if you don't understand how wind chill works, MNN's Starre Vartan explains it well.)

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the Twin Cities region of Minneapolis and St. Paul will be particularly hard hit by this surge of extreme cold.

Wind chills from this polar vortex could break records in the Twin Cities region. Wind chills from this polar vortex could break records in the Twin Cities region. (Photo: National Weather Service/Twitter)

"This is a life-threatening situation for those spending any prolonged period outdoors without proper clothing," the NWS warning statement reads. "Frostbite can occur quickly and even hypothermia or death if precautions are not taken.”

Life-threatening cold

While polar vortices always demand caution in terms of outdoor activities and traveling, this particular mass of Arctic air is notable for its sustained, gusty winds. As the NWS points out in the graphic below, wind is effective at breaking up the insulating layer between your skin and your surroundings.

Wind chill values below minus 25 degrees can lead to frost bite in less than 30 minutes. Wind chill values below minus 25 degrees can lead to frostbite in less than 30 minutes. (Photo: National Weather Service)

In scenarios where wind chill falls below minus 25 degrees, frostbite on exposed skin can occur in as little as 30 minutes. And it's not just humans that should be concerned. Anyone with pets, livestock, or other animals possibly exposed to such temperatures should take immediate precautions to ensure they're safely protected.

"I cannot stress how dangerously cold it will be," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll stated. "An entire generation has gone by without experiencing this type of cold in the Chicago area."

The Big Picture

While many have pointed to this lobe of extremely cold air as some kind of proof that global warming isn't occurring, it's important to take a step back, remember that weather is different from climate, and then study this map of temperature anomalies for the planet as a whole.

A map from the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine showing temperature differences compared to baseline averages from 1979-2000. A map from the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine showing temperature differences compared to baseline averages from 1979-2000. (Image generated from NCEP Global Forecast System by Climate Reanalyzer, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA)

As meteorologist Marshall Shepherd, director of the University of Georgia's Atmospheric Sciences Program, likes to say, "weather is mood, climate is personality."

Stay warm this week, everyone!

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Why this polar vortex is so dangerous
A record-breaking freeze fueled by the polar vortex and extreme wind chills is about to surge into the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes.