Icy temps chilled the tri-state for a second day Wednesday, but the region should see warmer temperatures as teeth-chattering cold brought on by a frigid, swirling system known as a polar vortex begins to ease out of the area.
Temperatures were again in the single digits and low teens Wednesday morning with wind chills near zero, forecasters say, but the mercury should rise into the mid-20s by the afternoon. Wind chills will make it feel about 10 degrees colder than the actual temperature throughout the day, but it won't be as gusty as Tuesday's numbing 40 to 50 mph winds.
The warming trend should continue Thursday as temperatures rise to the mid 30s and escalate Friday, when highs will climb into the low 40s. Showers are expected Saturday, but temperatures should climb into the 50s over the weekend.
The thaw comes after the coldest Jan. 7 on record in many parts of the tri-state, brought on by a cyclone of cold air known as a polar vortex. A portion of the polar vortex, which normally forms every year over the North Pole and Canada, broke off from a parent system and dipped into the U.S. in recent days after large blocks of high pressure over Greenland and Southwest weakened the jet stream.
Temperatures in Central Park dove to 4 degrees Tuesday morning, beating a 118-year record of 6 degrees for Jan. 7 set in 1896. Record lows were also observed at LaGuardia, Newark and John F. Kennedy airports, and on Long Island, where it was 7 degrees in Islip, six below the record of 13 degrees set in 1988.
On Long Island, record lows for the day were shattered for the second straight day Wednesday. It was 8 degrees in Islip, breaking a record of 14 degrees for Jan. 8 set in 1986. Temperatures aren't expected to approach records for Jan. 8 in Central Park or the area's airports.
The frigid cold put emergency workers on alert as they responded to calls for hypothermia, frostbite and falls on ice. At Tuesday's temperatures, frostbite could develop in just 10 minutes.
One woman suffered an asthma attack sitting under blankets in her icy apartment and had to be taken to the hospital.
"I had on two quilts over my blanket and I was still freezing. And here the asthma started coming, I couldn't breathe," she said. “It was like somebody is stabbing you.”
The cold brought with it other problems, such as car batteries zapped dead by frigid temperatures. In New Jersey alone, AAA said it replaced more than 300 batteries Tuesday, and the company took hundreds of similar calls up and down the East Coast.