FEBRUARY 2, 1996
CHARLAYNE CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The Midwest is accustomed to cold weather, but the record lows experienced this week in Minnesota and elsewhere have even exceeded temperatures in Alaska. For a look at what's behind this phenomenon and conditions hitting the Southeast today, we turn to Frederick Ostby, chief of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center. He joins us from Kansas City, Missouri. Mr. Ostby, thank you for joining us once again. Why is it so cold?
FREDERICK OSTBY: Well, Charlayne, we have had a tremendous surge of arctic air come down from the North, and it's just plunged all over the middle part of the United States, and is pushing even farther South, and it's been a--of course, this happens all the time in the wintertime, but in this particular case, it, it started out with very extremely cold air up in the North that has come down over the Midwest and is causing all these record temperatures and headlines.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do we have any idea why--what caused this burst of air?
MR. OSTBY: Well, sure, we do, because what we have is when the jet stream, that strong band of winds that goes across the United States at some times it undulates and it--for example, it may move Northward up into Alaska, and then plunge Southward over the United States, the rest of the United States, and so when you get that kind of plunge, that just pulls that very, very cold air down, down over the rest of the United States.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How cold is it? I see you're wearing your turtleneck. How cold is it in Kansas?
MR. OSTBY: We're trying to cope out here. We had minus 13 this morning, and we're looking for 15 below tonight, and it never got up to zero today. So it's pretty frigid out here.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, we just had this historic blizzard in January, I mean, and this one is historic. How, how is the weather going to--how long is it going to keep setting these historic records?
MR. OSTBY: Well, it's--you can't really say in the long-term but we know that in this particular situation when the--and we're going to have snow and ice moving Eastward and up and getting heavier snows up later into the major cities of Washington and Philadelphia and New York, Boston, and so forth.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All from this arctic air coming out of the North?
MR. OSTBY: All from--well, what's happening is that the arctic air pushes down, and there is meeting a resistance from warm air down over the Gulf of Mexico, and that kind of produces a battle zone between the warm and the cold air, and produces a great amount of precipitation that we're seeing, a band of, a band of freezing rain and a band of heavy snow, and that heavy snow will be working its way up into, into the Northeast tonight and tomorrow. After that is over, then the cold air will replace the precipitation and things should quiet down as we move into next week.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But will we get the kind of floods that we got last time in January that were quite destructive?
MR. OSTBY: Well, you know, rivers are running fairly high now, and with additional snow expected into the Northeast, that certainly will become a concern, but we don't--we don't look for at least in the early part of next week warming with heavy rain that would, you know, make the situation much worse. It looks like we're going to finally get into a period of a little more quiet weather, a little more--a little kinder weather.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What--you mentioned Alaska a moment ago. Why is it so much colder here than Alaska? How unusual is that?
MR. OSTBY: Well, it's--that's what happens when the--as I mentioned before--when this jet stream, instead of just going West to East from the Pacific to the Atlantic across the, across the middle part of the country, where it does this kind of undulation, and in so doing, not only bring cold air down over us; what it's doing is taking air from the warmer water, the Pacific, and bringing that up into Alaska, so that's the reason you see that. And this is not unusual, because when the weather gets extreme in one place, extremely cold and get records of cold, you're much apt to have just the opposite in other parts of the world.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And of course the cold in Alaska is normally more benign in a sense because it's drier, isn't it? I mean, you don't feel it as much.
MR. OSTBY: When you get in the inland areas and there's not as much, as much wind, but anytime you have the wind blowing and of course, we've had that here in areas of the Dakotas and Minnesota and so forth, tremendous wind chill values, and I even heard they--that it was so cold they cancelled the Winter Carnival up in Minnesota today.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: That's pretty cold.
MR. OSTBY: That's what you'd call real cold.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Jim mentioned that there have been 10 deaths in this cold, and I know you're not--this is not your--necessarily your territory, but is there any advice to people for--what they should do in these extreme temperatures?
MR. OSTBY: Well, of course, the best thing to do is if you don't have to, the best thing to do is stay in-doors. The thing I think where people can get into trouble is if they're traveling and in their car and maybe they don't have enough warm clothes with them and for example, maybe for some reason the car fails, the engine dies, and you can't get the car started, in those cases, it's really very helpful to have some warm blankets or some warm clothing just in case you have to go outside the car.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Ostby, nothing personal, but I'm not sure I want to see you again, but thanks for joining us tonight.
MR. OSTBY: Thank you, Charlayne.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you.