The U.S. government is juicing up its weather forecasting power.

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that it has upgraded its main weather forecasting model, called the Global Forecast System.

Interstates were closed for hundreds of miles in the Midwest and Plains Thursday, as a "bomb cyclone" brought a major winter storm to states in those regions. Some towns that just days ago were experiencing sunshine and temperate weather are now under 1 or 2 feet of snow.

Most of Nebraska and South Dakota remained under a blizzard warning Thursday afternoon, as snow continued to cause dangerous conditions. Minnesota, Wisconsin and much of Michigan's Upper Peninsula face a winter storm warning. Eastern North Dakota is under a flood warning.

John Perrin

The Wisconsin winter got off to a seemingly slow start, but it sure picked up in January and February. While the snow and cold can make getting places harder, John Perrin knows winter can also be beautiful.

Perrin, who lives in Milwaukee, was driving southeast on the Menomonee River Parkway the morning of Feb. 19, when he saw a sight he knew he had to capture.

LaToya Dennis

Cold, snow and ice — Milwaukee has had a lot of all three lately. The winter weather is hard on most people, but when that snow and ice are not removed from public walkways in a timely manner, it can make getting around for people with disabilities even more difficult, sometimes verging on impossible.

“A lot of times when plows plow the streets the snow gets kind of piled up, unfortunately, right at a lot of curb cuts," says 32-year-old Milwaukee resident William Crowley.

Lauren Sigfusson

After an unprecedented number of weather-related closures, Milwaukee Public Schools is adjusting its calendar for the rest of the school year. Feb. 19 was originally a staff-only day for professional development. But to make up for lost time, it is now a regular school day with students expected in class.

Good news for those affected by the historic polar vortex that hit most of the northern United States this week: Punxsutawney Phil, the world's most famous groundhog, did not see his own shadow, predicting an early spring, officials deemed.

It's only the 19th time in the past 133 years that the famed groundhog has predicted an early spring outcome.

Chuck Quirmbach

High temperatures in Wisconsin this weekend are expected to be about 50 degrees warmer than the highs just a few days ago. While the high Wednesday in Milwaukee only made it to minus 10, highs on Saturday and Sunday are expected near 40 degrees.

This may be cause for community celebration. But there are agencies and forecasters urging you to temper your enthusiasm.


Snow and brutally cold temperatures prompted many Wisconsin schools to cancel classes most of this week. Milwaukee Public Schools are back in session Friday after being closed five school days in a row, starting Jan. 25.

When temperatures dropped to minus 20 degrees Wednesday, parents cooped up with their kids at home had to find creative ways to burn energy.

Darren Hauck/Getty Images

Across the greater Milwaukee area, businesses remain closed, some flights are canceled and thousands of people are without power as We Energies works to fix issues.

Amy Jahns, a spokesperson for We Energies, says people in Sullivan, Racine and the town of Erin are impacted by wires snapping Thursday morning.  

“The weather with the frigid temperatures are causing our wires to constrict and causing them to snap off. And so we are arriving and finding wires down on the scene,” she says.

Maayan Silver

Editor's note: This piece was originally published Jan. 29.

Updated on Jan. 30 6:35 p.m.

Milwaukee Public Schools are closed Thursday due to extremely cold weather. Temperatures are expected to stay below zero through Thursday.

Eric Larsen Explore

For many, staying outside in the cold isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. Delivery people, police officers, and EMTs are just some of the people whose work forces them to stay outside despite the weather.

Maayan Silver

Milwaukee is in the middle of the polar vortex, which is setting its icy grip on the Midwest. The arctic chill is expected to be here through Thursday morning. While wind chills and air temperatures are at dangerous lows, this episode is extreme but not unprecedented.

If you've ventured outside the last few days, you've probably seen many people wearing large jackets, hats and other warm clothing. But Adam Bilsky was walking to work on Tuesday without much winter gear. 

Tatyana Gladskih / Fotolia

Whether wild or domesticated, animals are profoundly affected by the cold. Just like with humans, exposure can lead to frostbite and hypothermia in very little time. 

Anne Reed, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Humane Society, says the best thing to do for pets and domestic animals in this kind of weather is take them inside. 

"Any arrangements you have made for your animal to be safe outdoors in cold weather - you didn’t make them for weather like this. Indoors is the place for your animal to be," she says.

Tips To Get Your Furnace Through The Polar Vortex

Jan 30, 2019

Your home is one of the only refuges from the bitter cold, but even it has difficulty keeping up with the wind chill. On the coldest days, the furnace can continue to run without reaching the temperature on the thermostat. 

David Stuart is an environmental systems technician instructor, part of the sheet metal apprenticeship program with Sheet Metal Workers Local 18 and Milwaukee Area Technical College. He explains that if your thermostat is set to 70 degrees in these arctic temperatures, the house may only get to 68 or 66 degrees. 

Henryk Sadura / Fotolia

Between the snow, the ice, and the extreme cold, there are many in the Milwaukee-area seeking out social services by calling 211. The 24-hour phone line connects people with different services depending on their needs.

Emily Kenney is the coordinated entry program director for IMPACT 2-1-1, the organization responsible for southeastern Wisconsin’s 211 line. People looking for warming centers, street plowing services, or help with furnaces, can all call 211 for help.