- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Bitterly cold temperatures are moving into parts of the U.S. this week. But there’s some good news: The weather won’t be accompanied by the precipitation, which in the past has turned much of the southern states into a skating rink, and it won’t be cold enough to freeze your eyeballs or close schools.

Here’s some questions and answers about the forecast:

Q: WHAT’S THE FORECAST?

A: First, the cold. Chicago will see the tail end of a storm that could leave as many as 5 inches of snow by early Tuesday. After that, Arctic temperatures like those seen in North Dakota and Minnesota on Sunday will rush in - with highs in the single digits.

It’ll be a similar story in New York, where rain showers will give way to cold air. By Thursday, “New York City will be lucky if it hits 20” for a high and could see lows near 10 degrees, according to Michael Musher with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Atlanta will see temperatures dip to about 15 degrees Monday and Tuesday, but without any ice to accompany it.

In the West, a stream of Pacific moisture will drop as much as 6 inches of rain in the Seattle area and could mean substantial snowfall in the Cascades. But in San Francisco - a region that desperately needs rain - skies will be sunny.

Q: WHAT’S CAUSING THE TEMPERATURE DROP?

A: The jet stream is dipping, meaning cold air from Canada and other northern areas is plummeting into the eastern two-thirds of the United States.

Q: IS IT A POLAR VORTEX?

A: The phrase took on a life of its own last year, and it was blamed for everything from ice storms to the inability of the New York Giants to score touchdowns. But the National Weather Service is skittish about going anywhere near the phrase that starts with ‘p’ and ends with ‘x.’

But the answer is yes and no. Yes, because as Musher noted, the cold air is coming from near the North Pole. But also no, because the low-pressure system isn’t going to sink into the U.S. this year, just the temperatures that precede it.

Meteorologists say it’s simply winter.

Q: HOW CAN PEOPLE PREPARE?

A: Bundle up. For much of the country, this is the first true taste of winter. Musher suggests dressing properly and remembering that below-freezing temperatures can cause hypothermia.

But there doesn’t seem to be any huge winter storms poised to strike, meaning travel won’t be more difficult than it usually is this time of year.

Q: WHAT’S NEXT?

A: Temperatures are expected to be lower than normal for a good chunk of the week. They could rise a bit by the end of the week, but remember: Winter is only a couple weeks old.

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