CHICAGO – A blast of icy polar air brought dangerously low temperatures to the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday, causing at least three more deaths while halting mail services and forcing residents who pride themselves on their winter hardiness to huddle indoors.
Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said some of the coldest wind chills were recorded in International Falls, Minnesota, at minus 55 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 48 Celsius). Even the South Pole was warmer, with an expected low of minus 24 F (minus 31 C) with wind chill.
Classes were canceled for Wednesday and Thursday for students across the region, including Chicago, home of the nation’s third-largest school system, and police warned of the risk of accidents on icy highways. Michigan said all state offices would remain closed through Thursday.
In a rare move, the U.S. Postal Service appeared to set aside its credo that “neither snow nor rain” would stop its work as it halted deliveries from parts of the Dakotas through Ohio.
At least eight deaths related to extreme cold weather have been reported since Saturday in Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, according to officials and media reports.
More than a thousand flights — close to two-thirds of those scheduled — were canceled on Wednesday into or out of Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway international airports, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.
Amtrak canceled all trains into and out of Chicago on Wednesday.
The bitter cold was caused by a displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current was disrupted and was now pushing south.
Officials opened warming centers across the Midwest, and in Chicago, police stations were open to anyone seeking refuge.
The Michigan Agency for Energy said the state’s utility companies had agreed not to shut off gas or electric supplies to delinquent customers for the rest of the week.