Weather: Southern winds to knock polar vortex back up to Canada

(CNN) -- Soon, it will be time to strike up an old fight refrain and send the iceman packing: \"Na na na-na, na na na-na, hey-ey-ey, goodbye!\"


The mighty polar vortex marched down the length of the nation to the Gulf of Mexico with a glacial momentum that may have seemed unstoppable.


But its days are numbered, as a southern one-two punch is set to knock the rare arctic blast back up to Canada, said CNN meteorologist Jenny Harrison.


\"It really is a snap, just a few days of that really, really cold air.\"


A blustery high pressure area rising from the Southwest to the Northeast will throw it a broad, left hook this week, pushing it into the upper Midwest and Plains States. Then balmy southeastern air will rush up from the gulf and hit it straight on to finish the job, Harrison said.


Low blows


When the subzero polar vortex plunged down the middle of the nation early in the week, it tormented people as far south as Alabama with broken water pipes, according to local media reports.


It also turned geographic warm and cold spots on their heads.


On Tuesday, it was warmer in Anchorage, Alaska, where temperatures were in the 20s, than it was in Atlanta and Cincinnati, which saw respective lows of 7 and minus-7 degrees.


Those temperatures had not been felt in those cities since the mid-1990s, Harrison said.


The mercury is predicted to stay steady in Anchorage through Saturday, but in Cincinnati, it will slingshot up to about 50, and in Atlanta to about 60 degrees.


In New York, it was just 4 degrees in Central Park Tuesday, still well off the all-time low of 15 below zero in 1934.


But by Saturday, New Yorkers will be thawing with highs over 50 degrees, the weather service said.


North Dakota, which saw the worst of the arctic blast with lows around minus-30 with wind chills below minus-50 will drift back into normal winter lows in the plus 20s.


Slow melt


By the weekend, people may be strolling along the Gulf Coast in short sleeves with highs right around 70. But that will take a few days. Early Wednesday, they covered their tropical plants to shut out the frost, local media reported.


The National Weather Service issued a freeze warning early Wednesday for Gulf Coast regions, where palm trees swayed in an icy breeze.


The coming warming trend will not be sudden, but gradual, and that is good news, Harrison said.


\"We will not have a sudden thaw of that snow in the north and the northeast.\" That should help prevent some flooding.


Temperatures -- both highs and lows -- are to jump up by about 10 degrees per day, until the mercury in most of the United States stepladders from lows not seen in decades to unseasonably warm highs, the National Weather Service said.


The southerly air masses will push in some rain, which will fall in places where there is still cold weather, and, as a result, land as a slushy winter mix, the NWS said.


Cold plagues


Relief is already here for airline passengers, who waited in airports for hours.


The weather-related cancellations and delays that sowed U.S. flight maps with red pock marks -- indicating clogged airports -- have abated.


At over 3,000 per day at their peak, cancellations sank Tuesday to under 500, and early Thursday fewer than 50 were expected, according to


The vortex is still handing rough treatment to some places. Take Buffalo, New York, where the snow didn't seem to want to quit until early Wednesday. The NWS lifted its blizzard warning at 4:00 a.m.


High arctic winds whipped moist warmer air off of the Great Lakes and dumped it as snow there and in other places along their shores.


There were also gas outages in some areas of Buffalo because of broken water mains that flooded gas lines, CNN affiliate WIVB reported.


And the Niagara River was jammed with ice, which could push water over the banks and cause flash flooding.


Authorities have blamed at least 16 deaths on the cold so far, including 11 from traffic accidents and three involving hypothermia.  

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