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Frigid weather from polar vortex promises the deep freeze

Wet road conditions on the Long Island Expressway

Wet road conditions on the Long Island Expressway at Waverly Ave. in Holbrook as heavy rain falls Monday morning. (Jan. 6, 2014) Credit: James Carbone

An arctic blast of bone-chilling, teeth-chattering air will cast Long Island into a deep freeze Tuesday and Tuesday night with high winds driving temperatures down to subzero territory and forecasters warning against venturing out in the cold.

The frigid weather comes courtesy of what weather experts are calling a polar vortex -- a massive low-pressure system that came to life days ago in far-off Siberia, swooped down across Canada and picked up steam over the Great Lakes before leveling an expected direct hit on the Northeast.

For Long Island and the rest of the metropolitan area, the frozen conditions will mean possible flight delays and cancellations at area airports, dangerous driving conditions because of iced-over roads, and slow going for bus and rail commuters. But schoolchildren hoping for a rare "freeze day" will likely be out of luck. School officials said there are no plans yet to close schools in either Nassau or Suffolk.

Tuesday's highs will likely struggle to reach the lower teens for Nassau and western Suffolk, and around 15 to 18 for the East End, with nighttime lows dipping into the single digits, according to the National Weather Service. Manhattan and the rest of New York City will see similar highs in the low teens with lows also in the single digits.

Temperatures Wednesday should hit the mid-20s, forecasters said.

The harsh cold is in stark contrast to Monday, when the high was a balmy 55 degrees at Long Island MacArthur Airport.

Such rollercoaster-like temperature swings are rare, but they become more common with winter weather systems that draw up warmer air on their eastern flanks and tug in cold air from the north on their back ends, said Joey Picca, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton.

Along with the frozen air will come the biting winds. A wind chill advisory is expected to continue through 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the weather service.

Winds at times could buffet much of the Island with gusts as high as 50 mph. There won't be much relief when those gusts diminish. Steady winds throughout the day and Tuesday night will blow at between 20 and 30 mph, forecasters said, adding to the dangerous conditions for those willing to test the elements.

"Prolonged exposure to the bitter cold and wind could lead to frostbite and hypothermia," the National Weather Service said in a statement.

And if it seems a bit unfamiliar for the area this time of year, that's because it is, said meteorologist Peter Wichrowski of the Upton office. The normal early January temperature on Long Island is about 38 degrees, he said.

For Long Islanders who make their living outside no matter the weather, Monday's's mild temperatures meant taking time to prepare for the coming cold.

Bill Debobes, 49, a construction worker from Bethpage, took extra precautions and picked up a pair of black fleece running gloves at a Modell's Sporting Goods in Farmingdale.

"Everything we touch is steel, so it gets really cold," said Debobes, who will be building an elevator in the elements in Crown Heights. Debobes said he also planned to buy thermal wear.

"If you want to get paid, you go in," he said.

JetBlue Airways Corp. said Monday it would temporarily halt service at all three metropolitan area airports and its base in Boston. The airline would resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday, JetBlue spokesmen said. The New York-based carrier said it scrubbed 526 flights as of 4 p.m. Monday.

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