The freezing weather is set to sweep across the US and unleash arctic air across the US Midwest, clipping the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley and pushing on into New England. During the early Wednesday morning hours, much of the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and IL are locked down with these "feels like" temperatures in the -40s, -50s, and even -60s (Fahrenheit) as winds howl out of the west at up to 25mph.
The Chicago Police Department said that at most, it could encourage people to get out of the cold. Unlike most Chicago residents, Gilbert was required to report to his job at a Starbucks on a downtown street largely devoid of its usual bustle of people and traffic.
More than 1,500 flights were canceled at Chicago's two major airports while rail operator Amtrak scrapped train services from its hub in the city.
The US Postal Service has suspended mail delivery Wednesday in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kanas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and IL.
The culprit? A swirl of arctic air that broke away from the polar vortex that usually encircles the North Pole. The phenomenon was brought on by a cold weather system moving over North America, which the US National Weather Service says was strengthened by additional arctic air coming from Canada.
Experts said it was possible that climate change was playing a part in the extreme cold.
"The dangerously cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes", NWS said. By the weekend, Chicago, which experienced near-record cold of minus 23F (minus 30C) on Wednesday and minus 21F (minus 29C) on Thursday, was expected to bask in snow-melting highs in the mid-40s to low 50s Fahrenheit.
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Governors in Wisconsin, Illinois and MI declared emergencies as the worst of the cold threatened.
Companies told their workers to stay home.
"It's going to be at least a 60-degree swing for Chicago, from minus 20s to upper 40s by Sunday", said David Hamrick, a forecaster with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park Maryland. Forecasters advised against breathing deeply or talking while outside and warned that frostbite and hypothermia issues could occur within seconds.On Wednesday biting temperatures even caused Hell -a small town near Michigan- to freeze over, which prompted much discussion on social media.
Many cities in the Midwest have opened warming shelters for the tens of millions of people who will be affected.
In Chicago and Minneapolis, buses were used as roving warming shelters for the homeless.
Videos this week showed boiling water freezing as it was tossed in the air in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and transit workers in Chicago, Illinois, setting fire to train tracks to keep them from locking up.
Environment Canada reported record-breaking snowfall at the Ottawa airport, where some 50 flights were cancelled, with an accumulation of almost a metre (more than three feet). "All my flights have been cancelled".