MINNEAPOLIS – The coldest, most dangerous blast of polar air in decades gripped the Midwest and pushed toward the East and South on Monday, closing schools and child-care centers, grounding flights and forcing people to pull their hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite.
Northeast Indiana wasn’t the only area hit hard. Many across the nation’s midsection went into virtual hibernation, while others dared to venture out in temperatures that plunged well below zero.
“I’m going to try to make it two blocks without turning into crying man,” said Brooks Grace, who was bundling up to do some banking and shopping in downtown Minneapolis, where temperatures reached 23 below, with wind chills of minus 48. “It’s not cold – it’s painful.”
The mercury also dropped into negative territory in Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago, which set a record for the date at minus 16. Wind chills across the region were 40 below and colder. Records also fell in Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana.
Forecasters said 187 million people in all could feel the effects of the “polar vortex” by the time it spread across the country on Monday night and today.
Record lows were possible in the East and South, with highs in the single digits expected today in Georgia and Alabama. Subzero wind chills were forecast up and down the coast, including minus 10 in Atlanta and minus 12 in Baltimore.
From the Dakotas to Maryland, schools and child-care centers shut down.
“You definitely know when you are not wearing your thermal undergarments,” said Staci Kalthoff, who raises cattle with her husband on a 260-acre farm in Albany, Minn., where the temperature hovered around 24 below zero and winds made it feel like minus 46.
“You have to dress really, really warm and come in more often and thaw out everything.”
Several deaths were blamed on the snow, ice and cold since Saturday, including the death of a 1-year-old boy who was in a car that went out of control and collided with a snowplow Monday in Missouri.
It took authorities using 10-ton military vehicles known as “wreckers” until early Monday to clear all the chain-reaction accidents caused when several semis jackknifed along snowy interstates in southern Illinois.
The crash stranded about 375 vehicles, but there were no fatalities or injuries, largely because motorists either stayed with their cars or were rescued and taken to nearby warming centers if they were low on gas or didn’t have enough coats or blankets, said Jonathon Monken, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
More than 3,700 flights were canceled by late Monday afternoon, following a weekend of travel disruption across the U.S.
Elnur Toktombetov, a Chicago taxi driver, hit the road with hot tea and doughnuts, and an hour into his shift, his cab’s windows were still coated with ice on the inside.
People are “really happy to catch the cab.
“And I notice they really tip well,” he said.