The crippling polar vortex that has already killed at least six people across the midwestern United States is only expected to worsen, as millions of Americans brace for more life-threatening, freezing temperatures.
The extreme cold temperatures have so far engulfed six US states, including Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, leading to the cancellation of more than 2000 flights, 370 blood drives and the closure of hundreds of schools.
Nearly 90 million people are expected to experience temperatures at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18C), with six deaths already linked to the arctic weather that plummeted below -30C in Chicago and North Dakota.
“The intensity of this cold air, I would say, is once in a generation,” John Gagan, a National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist, said.
At those temperatures, it can take less than 10 minutes to develop frostbite.
Chilly morning in #Chicago #PolarVortex pic.twitter.com/RZjz0sCFe8— Mark Powell (@FrGoose13) January 30, 2019
Among the dead was a 55-year-old man found frozen in his garage in Wisconsin, an off-duty police officer and his wife whose car collided with another after losing control on a snowy road in Indiana, an Illinois man who was struck by a plow truck and a Minnesota resident, 82, who died from hypothermia outside his home.
Images and videos posted to social media by Chicago, Illinois residents illustrated the extreme cold, with water immediately freezing in the air and ice clinging to the inside of homes.
Chicago it expected to challenge its all-time record low set on January 20 1985, while nearby Minneapolis could break low temperature records originally set back in the 1800s.
As much as 60cm of snow was forecast in Wisconsin, and 15cm in Illinois.
Throwing a cup of boiling water in the air, when it’s minus 27 degrees (celsius). #chicago #PolarVortex2019 pic.twitter.com/fgRZHnwVvo — Adam Roberts (@ARobertsjourno) January 30, 2019
Snow was expected through Wednesday from the Great Lakes region into New England.
“This could possibly be history-making,” National Weather Service meteorologist Ricky Castro said.
Temperatures on Tuesday plunged below -18C. By nightfall the mercury was hovering at -14C in Detroit and -29C in Minneapolis.
A low of -23C was forecast in Chicago and elsewhere in northern Illinois on Wednesday. But with the wind chill factored in, temperatures are expected to dive as low as -46C through Thursday.
Temperatures could reach lows of -34C and 40C in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes on Wednesday.
All rail services to and from Chicago have been cancelled and the US Postal Service has suspended mail deliveries in parts of 10 states in the Great Plains and Midwest.
Xcel Energy, the largest electricity provider in Minneapolis, announced that a power outage affected more than 6500 customers, leaving them without any electricity on Wednesday.
Many cities in the Midwest had opened warming shelters.
Canada has also been hit with a deep freeze, with southern Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area and Vancouver blanketed by up to 30cm of snow.
The extreme weather prompted police to issue warnings about treacherous driving conditions.