Goodbye, polar vortex: Warmer weather is on the way

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**Embargo: Indianapolis, IN** Dozens of people gathered at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis for a snowball fight Monday, January 6, 2013.

By Ben Brumfield and Josh Levs

(CNN) — The 86,000 residents of Duluth, Minnesota, were among the millions of Americans lucky enough to wake up to warmer weather Wednesday. It was only 30 degrees below zero with wind chill in the city.

That was 20 degrees higher than 24 hours earlier.

It may not be as fast as most Americans want it, but a new weather pattern is, at long last, sending the iceman packing.

A Southern one-two punch is set to knock the mighty polar vortex back up to Canada.

A blustery high-pressure area rising from the Southwest to the Northeast will throw the Arctic blast 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.

Case in point: Chicago, which is already known for cold winters, but this week has been nicknamed — even by the National Weather Service — “Chiberia.” The city saw a high of only 3 degrees Tuesday, but should reach 1 Wednesday and 25 Thursday. By Friday, temperatures should be above freezing, CNN meteorologist Sherri Pugh said.

By Saturday, across the country, most highs will be at or above average, she said

In New York, it was just 4 degrees in Central Park on 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 some of the worst weather this week — with wind chills in the 50s below zero — will drift back into normal winter lows in the 20s.

In Atlanta, where temperatures have dipped to single digits, expect 63 degrees this weekend, CNN Meteorologist Indra Petersons said.

(Some rain will hit the Plains on Friday and the East Coast on Saturday, but let’s deal with that then.)

None of this means the immediate dangers are over.

Buffalo, New York, had its first blizzard warning in 20 years, with up to 2 feet of snow and howling winds creating white-out conditions.

The warmer weather will come gradually, which could help prevent some flooding.

22 deaths blamed on storm

Authorities are blaming this week’s freezing weather for as many as 22 deaths across five states.

Two people died in a traffic accident in Missouri, state officials said. One was a child, killed when the car he was in struck a snow plow.

In Michigan, four people died while outdoors shoveling snow, officials said.

Indiana’s Winter Storm Joint Information Center says six deaths are blamed on the weather.

Wisconsin health officials say three deaths were most likely due to the weather. And in Illinois, the Department of Public Health said seven deaths are presumed to be related to the weather.

More than 41,000 customers were without power Tuesday evening, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. More than 10,000 were in Indiana.

Winter weather advisories have been issued for later Wednesday, into Thursday morning, for parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.

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

Some relief has already arrived for travelers.

There were fewer flight cancellations Wednesday morning, totaling about 600, according to flightaware.com. On Tuesday, 2,700 flights were canceled. On Monday, that figure was more than 4,000.

This week’s rare polar vortex will be remembered in part for temporarily turning 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 — lower than they’d seen since the mid-1990s.

CNN’s Steve Almasy and Marlena Baldacci contributed to this report.

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