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Updated: 01/07/2014 01:19:07AM

Icy ‘polar vortex’ strikes

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The cold weather makes vision challenging as Jobin Curow's glasses fog up while walking in subzero temperatures and wind chills reaching -40 to -50 degrees on the Lawrence University campus Monday, January 6, 2014 in Appleton, Wis. Frigid, dense air swirled across much of the U.S. on Monday, forcing some cities and their residents into hibernation while others layered up and carried on despite a dangerous cold that broke decades-old records. (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Sharon Cekada ) NO SALES Sharon Cekada/Post-Crescent Media

The cold weather makes vision challenging as Jobin Curow's glasses fog up while walking in subzero temperatures and wind chills reaching -40 to -50 degrees on the Lawrence University campus Monday, January 6, 2014 in Appleton, Wis. Frigid, dense air swirled across much of the U.S. on Monday, forcing some cities and their residents into hibernation while others layered up and carried on despite a dangerous cold that broke decades-old records. (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Sharon Cekada ) NO SALES Sharon Cekada/Post-Crescent Media

The cold weather makes vision challenging as Jobin Curow's glasses fog up while walking in subzero temperatures and wind chills reaching -40 to -50 degrees on the Lawrence University campus Monday, January 6, 2014 in Appleton, Wis. Frigid, dense air swirled across much of the U.S. on Monday, forcing some cities and their residents into hibernation while others layered up and carried on despite a dangerous cold that broke decades-old records. (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Sharon Cekada ) NO SALES Sharon Cekada/Post-Crescent Media

The cold weather makes vision challenging as Jobin Curow's glasses fog up while walking in subzero temperatures and wind chills reaching -40 to -50 degrees on the Lawrence University campus Monday, January 6, 2014 in Appleton, Wis. Frigid, dense air swirled across much of the U.S. on Monday, forcing some cities and their residents into hibernation while others layered up and carried on despite a dangerous cold that broke decades-old records. (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Sharon Cekada ) NO SALES Sharon Cekada/Post-Crescent Media

Bob Brown, a building engineer for the Frisco Building in downtown St. Louis, shovels the sidewalk along Olive Street on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT.

Bob Brown, a building engineer for the Frisco Building in downtown St. Louis, shovels the sidewalk along Olive Street on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT.

Bob Brown, a building engineer for the Frisco Building in downtown St. Louis, shovels the sidewalk along Olive Street on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT.

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Jamie Jasmon struggles through snow and below zero temperatures while delivering the mail Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended into much of the U.S. and plunged temperatures to record lows. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Jamie Jasmon struggles through snow and below zero temperatures while delivering the mail Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended into much of the U.S. and plunged temperatures to record lows. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Jamie Jasmon struggles through snow and below zero temperatures while delivering the mail Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended into much of the U.S. and plunged temperatures to record lows. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Jamie Jasmon struggles through snow and below zero temperatures while delivering the mail Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended into much of the U.S. and plunged temperatures to record lows. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

With the area locked in a state of emergency, the streets in downtown Fort Wayne, Ind. remain mostly bare Monday, Jan 6, 2014, as plow trucks continued to clear the city streets and real temperatures dropped down to -12 degrees with wind chill factors hitting -30 degrees. The area is experiencing sub-zero temps and blowing and drifting after several inches of snow on Sunday. (AP Photo, The Journal Gazette, Chad Ryan) NEWS-SENTINEL OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; NO SALES; MAGS OUT

A person struggles to cross a street in blowing and falling snow Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in St. Louis. Snow that began in parts of Missouri Saturday night picked up intensity after dawn Sunday with several inches of snow on the ground by midmorning and more on the way. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Jerome Harris is bundled up against the weather as wind blows up his scarf Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in St. Louis. After the area was blanketed by snow on Sunday, dangerous cold settled across Missouri on Monday amid warnings that even a few minutes of exposure for people and pets could be deadly. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Commuters arrive at the La Salle Street commuter rail station as they experience temperatures well below zero and wind chills expected to reach 40 to 50 below, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Matt Frame brushes off a Buick at Ray Laethem Buick-GMC in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Michigan residents are preparing for diving temperatures as they dig out from more than 15 inches of snow in places. Snow wrapped up after starting during the weekend. Roads are slippery, with numerous crashes. In the southern Lower Peninsula, temperatures are to drop late Monday or early Tuesday as low as minus 15. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Matt Frame brushes off a Buick at Ray Laethem Buick-GMC in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Michigan residents are preparing for diving temperatures as they dig out from more than 15 inches of snow in places. Snow wrapped up after starting during the weekend. Roads are slippery, with numerous crashes. In the southern Lower Peninsula, temperatures are to drop late Monday or early Tuesday as low as minus 15. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Matt Frame brushes off a Buick at Ray Laethem Buick-GMC in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Michigan residents are preparing for diving temperatures as they dig out from more than 15 inches of snow in places. Snow wrapped up after starting during the weekend. Roads are slippery, with numerous crashes. In the southern Lower Peninsula, temperatures are to drop late Monday or early Tuesday as low as minus 15. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Matt Frame brushes off a Buick at Ray Laethem Buick-GMC in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Michigan residents are preparing for diving temperatures as they dig out from more than 15 inches of snow in places. Snow wrapped up after starting during the weekend. Roads are slippery, with numerous crashes. In the southern Lower Peninsula, temperatures are to drop late Monday or early Tuesday as low as minus 15. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Motorist travel along snow covered Grand River Avenue on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in downtown Detroit. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Jarrad Henderson) DETROIT NEWS OUT; NO SALES.

Motorist travel along snow covered Grand River Avenue on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in downtown Detroit. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Jarrad Henderson) DETROIT NEWS OUT; NO SALES.

Motorist travel along snow covered Grand River Avenue on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in downtown Detroit. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Jarrad Henderson) DETROIT NEWS OUT; NO SALES.

Motorist travel along snow covered Grand River Avenue on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in downtown Detroit. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Jarrad Henderson) DETROIT NEWS OUT; NO SALES.

Cattle feed in a pasture near Lecompton, Kan., Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Cattle with their thick hides and heavy coats can usually weather the cold temperatures well as long as there is not much snow to get them wet. Luckily, it is too early for most ranchers to calve yet in Kansas. But the brutally cold temperatures make it hard for the ranchers who must make sure they have plenty of unfrozen water, feed and bedding. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Cattle feed in a pasture near Lecompton, Kan., Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Cattle with their thick hides and heavy coats can usually weather the cold temperatures well as long as there is not much snow to get them wet. Luckily, it is too early for most ranchers to calve yet in Kansas. But the brutally cold temperatures make it hard for the ranchers who must make sure they have plenty of unfrozen water, feed and bedding. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Cattle feed in a pasture near Lecompton, Kan., Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Cattle with their thick hides and heavy coats can usually weather the cold temperatures well as long as there is not much snow to get them wet. Luckily, it is too early for most ranchers to calve yet in Kansas. But the brutally cold temperatures make it hard for the ranchers who must make sure they have plenty of unfrozen water, feed and bedding. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

A pedestrian crosses 2nd Street in downtown Henderson, Ky on a frigid Monday afternoon, Jan. 6, 2014. Temperatures were not forecasted to get above 3 degrees with lows dipping to -2 tonight. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)

Snow drifts blanket the cars of motorists stranded at the American Red Cross shelter Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at Faith Community Center in Lafayette, Ind. Bob Wollenburg, executive director of the local chapter, said 80 people stayed in the shelter Sunday night into Monday. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune)

Snow drifts blanket the cars of motorists stranded at the American Red Cross shelter Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at Faith Community Center in Lafayette, Ind. Bob Wollenburg, executive director of the local chapter, said 80 people stayed in the shelter Sunday night into Monday. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune)

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Jamie Jasmon struggles through snow and below zero temperatures while delivering the mail Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended into much of the U.S. and plunged temperatures to record lows. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

With the area locked in a state of emergency, the streets in downtown Fort Wayne, Ind. remain mostly bare Monday, Jan 6, 2014, as plow trucks continued to clear the city streets and real temperatures dropped down to -12 degrees with wind chill factors hitting -30 degrees. The area is experiencing sub-zero temps and blowing and drifting after several inches of snow on Sunday. (AP Photo, The Journal Gazette, Chad Ryan) NEWS-SENTINEL OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; NO SALES; MAGS OUT

The cold weather makes vision challenging as Jobin Curow's glasses fog up while walking in subzero temperatures and wind chills reaching -40 to -50 degrees on the Lawrence University campus Monday, January 6, 2014 in Appleton, Wis. Frigid, dense air swirled across much of the U.S. on Monday, forcing some cities and their residents into hibernation while others layered up and carried on despite a dangerous cold that broke decades-old records. (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Sharon Cekada ) NO SALES Sharon Cekada/Post-Crescent Media

Jerome Harris is bundled up against the weather as wind blows up his scarf Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in St. Louis. After the area was blanketed by snow on Sunday, dangerous cold settled across Missouri on Monday amid warnings that even a few minutes of exposure for people and pets could be deadly. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Matt Frame brushes off a Buick at Ray Laethem Buick-GMC in Detroit, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Michigan residents are preparing for diving temperatures as they dig out from more than 15 inches of snow in places. Snow wrapped up after starting during the weekend. Roads are slippery, with numerous crashes. In the southern Lower Peninsula, temperatures are to drop late Monday or early Tuesday as low as minus 15. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Motorist travel along snow covered Grand River Avenue on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in downtown Detroit. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Jarrad Henderson) DETROIT NEWS OUT; NO SALES.

Cattle feed in a pasture near Lecompton, Kan., Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Cattle with their thick hides and heavy coats can usually weather the cold temperatures well as long as there is not much snow to get them wet. Luckily, it is too early for most ranchers to calve yet in Kansas. But the brutally cold temperatures make it hard for the ranchers who must make sure they have plenty of unfrozen water, feed and bedding. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

A pedestrian crosses 2nd Street in downtown Henderson, Ky on a frigid Monday afternoon, Jan. 6, 2014. Temperatures were not forecasted to get above 3 degrees with lows dipping to -2 tonight. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)

Snow drifts blanket the cars of motorists stranded at the American Red Cross shelter Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at Faith Community Center in Lafayette, Ind. Bob Wollenburg, executive director of the local chapter, said 80 people stayed in the shelter Sunday night into Monday. (AP Photo/Journal & Courier, John Terhune)

Steam rises from the tops of buildings in the Chicago skyline Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, as a whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended on the city. Much of the U.S. has been hit with a dangerous cold that could break decades-old records with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Doug Hanson crosses Harlem Boulevard at Guard Street on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, while walking his route in Rockford, Ill. Hanson, a veteran letter carrier of 26 years, said this is one of the coldest days of work he could remember. A weekend storm that dumped up to 15 inches of snow in some parts of Illinois was followed by a bitter mass of arctic air that plunged temperatures to record lows. (AP Photo/Rockford Register Star, Max Gersh) MANDATORY CREDIT

Catherine Costner and husband Tony Costner brave cold temperatures while visiting the Cobb County Courthouse on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Marietta, Ga. The National Weather Service had much of north Georgia under a wind-chill warning today and predict temperatures could reach single digits by Tuesday morning in some areas of that region. (AP Photo/John Amis)

A Southwest plane is deiced at Chicago Midway International Airport Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Chicago. The bitter weather comes after a heavy snowstorm hit much of the region last week. More than 1,000 flights were canceled Sunday at airports throughout the Midwest. More than 400 flights were cancelled at Chicago's airports Monday.(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

By STEVE KARNOWSKI and RICK CALLAHAN

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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 day care centers, grounding flights and forcing people to pull their hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite.

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 some 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 Tuesday.

Record lows were possible in the East and South, with highs in the single digits expected Tuesday 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 day 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.”

Even with this nostril- freezing cold, the family still prefers winter over summer.

“You can always put on more layers,” she said. “When it gets hot, you can only take off so much.”

For a big swath of the Midwest, the subzero cold moved in behind another winter wallop: more than a foot of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous.

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. Others got stuck in the snowdrifts, including the Southern Illinois men’s basketball team, which had to spend the night sleeping in a church.

In the eastern United States, temperatures in the 40s and 50s Monday helped melt piles of snow from a storm last week, raising the risk that roads would freeze over as the cold air moved in Monday night, said Bob Oravec from the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Md. The snap was set to be dramatic; Springfield, Mass., enjoyed 56 degrees Monday morning but faced an overnight low of 6.

More than 3,700 flights were canceled by late Monday afternoon, following a weekend of travel disruption across the U.S. Airline officials said de-icing fluid was freezing, fuel was pumping sluggishly, and ramp workers were having difficulty loading and unloading luggage. JetBlue Airways stopped all scheduled flights to and from New York and Boston on Monday, and Southwest ground to a halt in Chicago.

Authorities in Indiana and Kentucky — where temperatures dropped into the single digits and below, with wind chills in the minus 20s and worse — warned people not to leave their homes at all unless they needed to go someplace safer.

Utility crews worked to restore power to more than 40,000 Indiana customers affected by the weekend storm and cautioned that some people could be in the cold and dark for days.

Ronald G. Smith Sr. took shelter at an Indianapolis Red Cross after waking up the previous night with the power out and his cat, Sweet Pea, agitated in the darkness.

“The screen door blew open and woke me up, and it was cold and dark. I got dressed and I was scared, thinking, ‘What am I going to do? My cat knew something was wrong. He was jumping all over the place,” Smith said. “This is brutal cold. The cold is what makes this so dangerous.”

Even after Indianapolis lifted a travel ban, officials urged residents to stay home for their own safety and that of police and other emergency workers.

“It’s still slick out there,” said Marc Lotter, a spokesman for the mayor. “It’s just not safe for people to be out on the streets.”

Officials in Chicago and other cities checked on the homeless and shut-ins for fear they might freeze to death on the street or in their homes.

Between a heater that barely works and his drafty windows, Jeffery Davis decided he would be better off sitting in a downtown Chicago doughnut shop for three hours Monday until it was time to go to work.

He threw on two pairs of pants, two T-shirts, “at least three jackets,” two hats, a pair of gloves, the “thickest socks you’d probably ever find” and boots, and trudged to the train stop in his South Side neighborhood that took him to within a few blocks of the library where he works.

“I never remember it ever being this cold,” said Davis, 51. “I’m flabbergasted.”

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.

Only a few hardy souls braved the cold on the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, normally a busy pedestrian area. Many people downtown used the extensive heated skyway system, where it is warm enough to walk around in office attire. Nearly all stores on the skyway were open as usual.

Jersey Devil Pizza & Wings was not.

“Apologies ... We are East Coast wimps. Too cold! Stay safe, see you Tuesday,” read a sign taped to the door.

———

Callahan reported from Indianapolis. Associated Press writers Don Babwin, Sara Burnett, Ashley M. Heher, Michael Tarm and Tammy Webber in Chicago; Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn.; John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio; Kelly Kissel in Oklahoma City; David Koenig in Dallas; and Bruce Schreiner and Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.




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