At least 12 dead as Arctic freeze spreads into US Northeast

Friday, 01 Feb, 2019

Chicago's record for the coldest temperature was shattered on Wednesday as the polar vortex struck the biggest city in the U.S. Midwest, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Wind chills are likely to hit anywhere from 35 to 50 degrees below zero. Forecasters predicted temperatures in the mid-40s F on Sunday and low 50s F on Monday in Chicago.

And these cities are not alone with freezing cold temperatures as 75% of the continental United States will be below freezing at some point this week, affecting 90 million people. The National Weather Service warned that a wind chill of minus 25 (negative 32 Celsius) can freeze skin within 15 minutes.

A sign shows the current outdoor temperature in Glenview, Ill., Jan. 30, 2019.

Officials throughout the region were focused on protecting vulnerable people from the cold, including the homeless, seniors and those living in substandard housing.

In Minnesota and Upper Michigan, temperatures will be at -29°C (-20°F) on Thursday and parts of North Dakota can expect -30°F, forecasters warned. "Please come back fast, we need you!"

Thousands of flights were cancelled on Tuesday and further travel disruption in coming days is expected.

In Minneapolis, charitable groups that operate warming places and shelters were expanding hours and capacity 'as they do whenever risky extreme temperature events occur, ' said Hennepin County Emergency Management Director Eric Waage.

In Chicago, temperatures have plummeted to almost minus 30 Celsius degrees, with residents dubbing the city "Chiberia".

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said city agencies are making sure homeless people are in shelters or offered space in warming buses. Schools and colleges have temporarily closed in many parts of the Midwest, and the Postal Service has effectively canceled Wednesday mail delivery in parts of at least 10 states out of concerns for the safety of employees. United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart said "everything tends to slow down" during severely cold weather, including manpower, fueling, and equipment.

Dozens of records could be broken this week as the temperatures fall.

Governors in Illinois, Wisconsin and MI declared emergencies as the worst of the cold threatened on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, Consumers Energy, one of the main energy providers in MI, sent out an emergency appeal to customers throughout the state to reduce their heat as much as possible to avoid a critical gas shortage. Detroit also said all public schools would close, and Michigan State University said it would suspend classes, only the seventh time it has done so because of weather since 1855.

The cold air is riding behind an Arctic front that brought several inches of snow to the same region over the weekend.

Homeless shelters were also preparing for the onslaught of cold.

The death is the eighth fatality linked to the extremely cold weather in the Midwest.

Another man, 55, froze to death in his Milwaukee garage after he collapsed shovelling snow.

Detroit's outlook was for Wednesday overnight lows around -12°F (-24°C), with wind chills dropping to -35°F (-37°C).

Commuters courageous the wind and snow in frigid weather in Cincinnati, on January 30, 2019.

"Heavens, it's very cold", said Vijen Nadasan, 49, a tourist from Johannesburg, South Africa, who planned to spend the day sightseeing with his wife and daughter.