Farmers from across Wisconsin shared the frozen temperatures this past week via Agri-View’s Facebook page – as well as a few photos. While online and TV reporters talked to residents in cities who were in danger, our farmers carried on as they always have – and as their parents and grandparents did before them. Animals were still fed. Outside wood furnaces were still fed. Farmers went right on feeding the nation and the world, though with a few extra clothing layers.

Wisconsin was center stage for Arctic weather moving south – the dreaded “polar vortex.” The worst temperature reported to Agri-View was 46 degrees below zero near Readstown – without wind chill. With a 10-mile-per-hour breeze the wind chill there would have been 73 degrees below zero. With a 20-mile-per-hour wind the wind chill would have been 82 degrees below zero. To put that in perspective, the average temperature on Mars is 81 degrees below zero. The temperature in Alert, Canada, near the North Pole is currently 29 degrees below zero. Wisconsin may have had the distinction of being the coldest place on earth.

Agri-View Facebook friends — degree readings as of Jan. 31, 2019

  • Melissa Hanke of Marshfield … -32
  • Melissa Traiser of Somerset … -32
  • Clayton Wohik of Almena … -38 – “Wednesday morning felt worse”
  • Chris Hardie of Taylor … -40 – Celsius-Fahrenheit temperatures are the same at -40
  • Shari Eidsmoe O’Connor of Blanchardville … -40 – “thank goodness no wind”
  • Kirsten Huth of Cameron … -36.8
  • Bob Davis of Ashford … -28
  • Matt Jacowski of Buena Vista … -34
  • James West of Cazenovia … -37
  • Brenda Coleman Wright of Readstown … -46
  • Lisa Scott Meyer … -23
  • Jeremy Hawkins of Glenwood City … -30
  • Nicholas Kolodziej of Mosinee … -34
  • Randy Mueller of Portage … -30
  • Jon Sawle of Prairie du Sac … -40
  • Jeffrey Danz of Livingston … -28
  • Brandon Meddaugh of Hollandale … -40

Polar vortex not new

A polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. It always exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term “vortex” refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream. That occurs fairly regularly during winter and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States.

Our January 2019 polar vortex is similar to many other cold outbreaks that have occurred in the past, including in 1977, 1982, 1985, 1989 and 2014. There are several things the polar vortex is not. Polar vortexes are not something new. The term “polar vortex” has only recently been popularized, bringing attention to a weather feature that has always been present. It’s also not a feature that exists at the Earth’s surface. Weather forecasters examine the polar vortex by looking at conditions tens of thousands of feet up in the atmosphere. It’s not confined to the United States; portions of Europe and Asia also experience cold surges connected to the polar vortex. By itself the only danger to humans is the magnitude of how cold temperatures will become when the polar vortex expands, sending Arctic air southward into areas that are not typically that cold

In spite of the frigid temperatures, a shallow to moderately deep snow cover has helped to insulate most winter grains from frigid conditions – including Midwestern soft red winter wheat. A variable snow cover stretches from the northern half of the Plains into the Northeast, including much of the Corn Belt, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Julie Belschner writes on various agricultural issues; she is the managing editor for Agri-View based in Wisconsin. Email jbelschner@madison.com to contact her.