The coldest weather conditions for two decades show little sign of relenting in parts of America, as forecasters predict freezing temperatures could make today the coldest on record in the 21st century.
The dangerously cold polar air snapped decades-old records as it spread Tuesday from the Midwest to southern and eastern parts of the US and eastern Canada, making it hazardous to venture outside and keeping many schools and businesses closed.
Monday's temperatures broke records in Chicago, which set a record for the date at minus 16 Fahrenheit (minus 27 Celsius), and elsewhere.
In Toronto, a message on Pearson International Airport's official Twitter account Tuesday morning said "extreme cold (is) causing equipment freezing and safety issues for employees. Ground stop in effect until at least 9 a.m."
It sounds like a plot device from a bad disaster movie, but for vast swathes of North America, the weather phenomenon known as a “ polar vortex” has become all too real, bringing misery to millions across the US and Canada, along with the lowest temperatures seen in almost twenty years.
More than 3,000 flights had been cancelled across the region by 10am yesterday morning. A further 3,700 had already been cancelled during the weekend. Schools were closed in major cities such as Chicago and St Louis, and residents advised to remain indoors.
Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland, told Bloomberg today could beat 16 January, 2009, the coldest day of the century.
The Governor of Minnesota closed all the schools in his state, while the mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, banned driving except in emergencies – the first time the city has issued such a strict travel warning since 1978. Mr Ballard said: “This extreme cold poses a serious health and safety risk and for that reason the city is asking people to proactively prepare.”
In many areas, particularly in the Midwest and Northern Plains, the cold was considered life-threatening. Hypothermia is a major risk at temperatures of below -25C, while frostbite can take hold in less than 10 minutes at -37C. At ‑45C, uncovered skin could freeze within five minutes. The windchill in Comertown, Montana, close to the border with Canada, is expected make temperatures feel as low as -52C.
In pictures: 'Polar vortex' hits US Midwest and Northeast
In pictures: 'Polar vortex' hits US Midwest and Northeast
An AAA emergency technician assists a motorist on Bidwell Avenue in Buffalo, New York
Ice forms on the shore of the East River due to unusually low temperatures caused by a Polar Vortex in New York
A man braves the cold and walks along the shore of Lake Michigan as temperatures remain in the negative digits in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A 'polar vortex' of frigid air centered on the North Pole dropped temperatures to the negative double digits at its worst
Snow is piled high along the street outside the front of a home in Indianapolis, Indiana. A deadly blast of arctic air shattered decades-old temperature records as it enveloped the eastern United States, canceling thousands of flights, driving energy prices higher and overwhelming shelters for homeless people
Jennifer Berry watches the sunset from a lifeguard chair at a beach on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. Shortly after daybreak in the Twin Cities, thermometers had inched their way up to anywhere from 8 to 13 below zero
Ice builds up along Lake Michigan at North Avenue Beach in Chicago, Illinois
Chicago hit a record low of -16 degree Fahrenheit this morning as a polar air mass brought the coldest temperatures in about two decades into the city
Ice builds up along Lake Michigan as temperatures dipped well below zero in Chicago, Illinois
Clouds of steam rise from the Mississippi river during -14 Degrees Fahrenheit (-25 degrees Celsius) weather, in Minneapolis, Minnesota
A view of the War Memorial in Indianapolis, Indiana. According to news reports, Indianapolis received about 30 centimeters of snow and the morning temperature was -9 degrees Celsius
A horse drinks water from a hole in a frozen water tank in Enid, Oklahoma. Record low temperatures were set in at least two Oklahoma cities as a frigid front moved into the state
Ron, a bison at Brookfield Zoo, is covered in snow and doesn't seemed phased by the frigid temperatures or snow blowing through the Chicago area. The zoo was closed due to the snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures
A woman walks through a gust of blowing snow in frigid cold temperatures though downtown Chicago, Illinois. A blast of Arctic air gripped the mid-section of the United States, bringing the coldest temperatures in two decades
Washburn High School's information board reads -14 Degrees Fahrenheit (-25 degrees Celsius), in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Schools in the area were closed due to the severe weather
Patrick O'Brien dressed up in a Spiderman superhero outfit goes for a run in -25 degrees Celsius weather, in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Snow is piled up high in front of Home Depot in the South Bay shopping center after a two day winter storm in Boston, Massachusetts
A man wears a face mask and heavy clothes while walking through downtown Springfield, in blowing and falling snow as a strong winter storm moves through the Midwest. Temperatures not seen in years are likely to set records in the coming days across the Midwest, Northeast and South, creating dangerous travel conditions and prompting church and school closures
A city snow plow clears a street of snow in an almost deserted downtown as strong winds and snow move through the Midwest in Springfield
A man prepares to remove his plow stuck in a snow bank as snow and wind swirls in St. Louis
A Delta airlines plane is seen taking off while the fleets other planes sit on the tarmac at JFK Airport, New York
Four homeless men warm themselves on a steam grate by the Federal Trade Commission, blocks from the Capitol, during frigid temperatures in Washington. A winter storm that swept across the Midwest this week blew through the Northeast, leaving bone-chilling cold in its wake
Nicholas Simmons warms himself on a steam grate with three homeless men by the Federal Trade Commission, just blocks from the Capitol, during frigid temperatures in Washington
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation employees clear out snow from Carl Schurz Park after an overnight storm dropped up to 7 inches of snow in New York City. The Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States were hit with a large amount of snowfall accompanied by blizzard-like winds and plummeting temperatures this week
A man falls while slipping on ice during freezing rain on Roosevelt Island, a borough of Manhattan in New York
A couple walks through the winter white-out on Swan Avenue in Webster Groves
Few cars drive on Interstate 44 in Fenton. Snow-covered roads and high winds were creating dangerous driving conditions from Missouri to Delaware ahead of a 'polar vortex' that'll bring below-zero temperatures not seen in years to much of the nation in the coming days
People carry bundles of warm weather wraps as they arrive outside Lambeau Field before the start of the NFL Wild Card playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wisconsin
Joe (R) and Rick (L) Pecki wait for the gates to open outside Lambeau Field before the start of the NFL Wild Card playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Temperatures are around 5 degrees (-15 C) and are expected to go lower throughout the next few days
An icy tennis ball was no deterrent for Laura Jorgensen's dog Wilber while they played in a dog park in sub-zero weather as the midwest braces for the coldest temperatures in nearly twenty years to arrive in later today in Minneapolis, Minnesota
James Schlafer and his wife Diana Schlafer of Minneapolis went for their daily four to five mile walk in sub-zero temps as the midwest braces for the coldest temperatures in nearly twenty years to arrive in later today in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Chicago’s National Weather Service office reported that Monday’s low of -26C at O’Hare International Airport beat a record set in 1884 and equalled in 1988. In Fargo, the largest city in North Dakota, temperatures sank below ‑35C. Motorists were advised in that state and its neighbour South Dakota to carry survival kits and a charged mobile phone in case they found themselves stranded in the perilous weather.
At least 13 people are thought to have died as a result of the extreme conditions already, including several road accidents, a man who succumbed to hypothermia in Wisconsin, and a worker crushed by a massive pile of road salt at a storage facility in Philadelphia. An elderly Alzheimer’s sufferer from rural New York state wandered out into the snow; she was later found dead from the cold, around 100 yards from her home.
The arctic freeze only exacerbated the problems caused by a weekend of heavy snowfall that had covered parts of Canada and the northern US in up to 60cm. In Detroit, where 25cm fell, the heavy snow was thought to have caused a roof to collapse, though no one was killed in the incident.
Meanwhile in St Louis, shopping centres, cinemas, restaurants and several major tourist sites were shuttered, including the zoo and the city’s famous Gateway Arch. Even a nearby ski resort, Hidden Valley, was forced to close its slopes.
In Newfoundland, Canada, a power outage on Sunday left 90,000 homes without electricity, a pattern repeated in several locations across the US. Though northern states were the worst affected, record-breaking low temperatures were also expected as far south as Atlanta. While farmers in South Dakota worried about keeping their cattle alive through the dangerous chill, down in Florida, citrus farmers were reported to be equally concerned about the effect of a prolonged freeze on their crops.
There was at least one good news story to emerge from the bad weather, however. The family of a missing New York man, 20-year-old Nicholas Simmons, found him sleeping rough on the streets of Washington, DC, thanks to a newspaper gallery illustrating the effects of the polar vortex.
Mr Simmons reportedly left his home in upstate New York last Wednesday evening. His family reported him missing and set up a Facebook page to plead for help in finding him. Then, on Sunday, a photograph of a young homeless man warming himself on a Washington steam grate, taken by the Associated Press photographer Jacquelyn Martin, appeared in a photo-spread in USA Today.
The young homeless man was Mr Simmons, whose mother spotted the image and contacted Ms Martin and Washington DC police, who found the young man still in the area where he had been photographed. He was taken to hospital and later reunited with his parents.