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Jen and Aaron Brackman take a walk on the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on January 29, 2019.
Stephen Maturen/AFP/Getty Images

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What -20° looks like in the polar vortex across the Midwest

Photos of life in the polar vortex.

It’s hard to comprehend temperatures of minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s much, much colder than the temperature the standard home freezer keeps food at (which is around zero). At -20°F vodka freezes and boiling water will instantly turn to snow if thrown in the air. Combined with wind, this kind of cold causes frostbite to set in on exposed skin in just minutes. It’s a temperature comparable to the weather on Mars.

This is life in the polar vortex, which has descended from the Arctic down into the Midwestern United States this week, bringing record cold and wind chills to the region.

Fargo, North Dakota, for example, experienced temperatures of minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday. The daytime high is forecast to be a frigid -19°F. Chicago hit -20°F on Wednesday as well. It’s currently -16°F in Milwaukee.

“This is the coldest air many of us will have ever experienced,” warns the Des Moines office of the National Weather Service. The forecast continues: “This is not a case of ‘meh, it’s Iowa during winter and this cold happens.’ These are record-breaking cold air temperatures, with wind chill values not seen in the 21st century in Iowa.”

To get a better understanding of what it’s like to be that cold, we crawled the photo wires, and asked readers to submit images of what the 2019 polar vortex looks like. Have more photos to share? Email us:, or tweet at @voxdotcom or @b_resnick.

Some of the photos we found are quite beautiful, like this one of a halo surrounding the sun in the early morning outside West Union, Iowa. The halo forms when sunlight is refracted through ice crystals frozen in the atmosphere.

Ice forms along the shore of Lake Michigan before sunrise on January 30, 2019.
Kiichiro Sato/AP
Chicago’s lakefront covered with ice.
Teresa Crawford/AP
Commuters braves the wind and snow in frigid weather in Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 30, 2019.
John Minchillo/AP

A Vox reader in North Minneapolis, where it was -22°F on Wednesday, got creative trying to seal up his home in the picture below.

Commuters pass a thermometer registering -18° in downtown Chicago, Illinois, on January 30, 2019.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Carman Diego Lopez inspects and works on rail cars at the Metra Western Avenue Yard in Chicago, Illinois, on January 29, 2019.
Kiichiro Sato/AP
Ice forms along the shore of Lake Michigan, in Chicago, Illinois, on January 30, 2019.
Kiichiro Sato/AP

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