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77 below zero? Polar vortex yields deadly cold as thousands endure power cuts, travel issues mount in Midwest

By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
July 05, 2019, 11:13:41 AM EDT

As of 1:04 p.m. CST Thursday, this story is no longer being updated.

Long-standing records are being broken as the polar vortex sends extremely cold air into midwestern and northeastern United States to end January.

States of emergency have been issued in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan due to the extreme cold with many schools and businesses closing until the frigid air loosens its grip on the region later this week.

At least eight fatalities have been attributed to the cold, the Associated Press reports.

Minneapolis could break low temperature records originally set in the 1800s, and Chicago could challenge its all-time record low of minus 27 F, set on Jan. 20, 1985.

ap cold

Commuters braves the wind and snow in frigid weather, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

In addition to the bone-chilling cold, a biting wind will send AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures to even lower levels.

The deep freeze has a firm grip on the Upper Midwest with an AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature of 77 degrees below zero Fahrenheit reported at Thief River Falls, Minnesota, on Tuesday evening.

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Values this low can cause frostbite on exposed skin in a matter of minutes.

The arrival of the Arctic air was accompanied by dangerous snow squalls in the Northeast on Wednesday.

Polar vortex brings freezing conditions to Midwest

As of 1:04 p.m. CST Thursday, this story is no longer being updated.

8:55 a.m. CST Thursday:

There are more than 2,600 flight cancellations in the U.S. today, including more than 1,400 at Chicago's O'Hare Internatinal Airport, according to FlightAware.

Chicago has shattered it's record low temperature for Jan. 31. The temperature this morning was minus 21, surpassing the previous record of minus 12 back in 1985.

6:46 a.m. CST Thursday:

Dozens of people have been sent to hospitals in Minnesota as a result of the extreme cold. According to the AP, Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis has treated 22 patients for frostbite since Friday.

Many schools remain closed on Thursday, including around Minneapolis and St. Paul.

3:45 a.m. CST Thursday:

Commuters in the Northeast will need to be wary of lingering icy patches on the roadways following Wednesday's snow squalls.

2:45 a.m. CST Thursday:

AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures have dipped to 10-30 below zero F across the interior Northeast early this morning. State College, Pennsylvania, recorded a RealFeel Temperature as low as 31 below zero.

Windy conditions through Thursday will keep temperatures at dangerously low levels throughout the region.

Thurs RF Jan 30

1:30 a.m. CST Thursday:

Pittsburgh has already broken its record low temperature for the date of minus 3 F from 1971, with a current temperature of minus 5.

12:15 a.m. CST Thursday:

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has requested that residents in the lower peninsula turn down thermostats to 65 F or lower to curb energy usage, according to WLNS-TV. The request comes in the wake of a fire at the Ray Compressor Station on Wednesday morning.

General Motors has suspended and canceled several shift operations at the request of Consumers Energy. This will "allow the utility to manage supply issues brought on by the extreme temperatures and equipment issues," WLNS-TV stated.

12:00 a.m. CST Thursday:

Moline, Illinois, has set a new all-time record low for any date as the mercury dipped to minus 29 F.

11:00 p.m. CST Wednesday:

The current temperature is minus 20 F in Minneapolis, and temperatures will continue to plummet through the overnight. The daily record low of minus 27 set in 1887 will be in jeopardy.

Chicago has already broken its daily record low of minus 12 set in 1985, with a current temperature of minus 18. The city has a chance of breaking its all-time record low of minus 27 F, set on Jan. 20, 1985.

Moline, Illinois, has already tied its all-tie record low of minus 28 set in 1996. This record will likely be broken early Thursday as temperatures continue to fall.

8:45 p.m. CST Wednesday:

Consumers' Ray Natural Gas Compressor Station CEO turned to Facebook to issue an urgent plea to customers in Michigan to reduce their thermostats as much as possible in wake of a facility fire.

7:30 p.m. CST Wednesday:

More than 100 firefighters responded to a fire in New Jersey at a Marcal Plant in Elmwood Park, but strong winds and frigid temperatures are making their efforts to put out the fire more difficult.

6:50 p.m. CST Wednesday:

American Airlines along with their regional partners have canceled more than 1,000 flights today and tomorrow due to extreme cold in Chicago.

5:45 p.m. CST Wednesday:

There is a Snow Squall Warning in effect until 7:15 p.m. EST that includes the Boston metro area.

White-out conditions with visibility as low as ¼ mile along with wind gusts as high as 50 mph are possible.

There are reports of very strong wind gusts with some gusts exceeding 60 mph in areas.

4:30 p.m. CST Wednesday:

The body of a University of Iowa student has been found on the campus in Iowa City, and officials say they believe his death was weather-related.

Television station KCRG reports that the body of 18-year-old Gerald Belz was found behind an academic hall shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday by campus police.

According to AP News, Belz was taken to a hospital, where he died. While officials believe his death was related to dangerously low temperatures at the time he was found, officials have not given a specific cause of death.

3:30 p.m. CST Wednesday:

Two counties in upstate New York have ordered drivers to stay off the roads due to drifting and blowing snow causing unsafe conditions.

The ban means all drivers, except emergency personnel, are to stay off roads.

The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday around 2:45 p.m. EST that a travel ban has been put in place, effectively immediately.

A travel ban was also issued in Erie County on Wednesday afternoon for multiple towns.

To see if your town is effected by the travel ban click here.

2:30 p.m. CST Wednesday:

Power outages continue to wreak havoc across Illinois and other areas across the Midwest.

ComEd said they have restored power to the majority of customers, however 4,000 customers still remain without power.

1:55 p.m. CST Wednesday:

An 82-year-old central Illinois man has died in the frigid weather, bringing the death toll from the extreme cold in the Midwest to seven. Authorities say he was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home, AP News reports.

A neighbor found the man Tuesday afternoon and called 911. The man was pronounced dead later Tuesday, Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said to the (Peoria) Journal Star.

The man’s cause of death was related to cold exposure. He wasn’t immediately identified pending notification of family.

1:23 p.m. CST Wednesday:

Dangerous travel conditions are developing in New York and Pennsylvania and spreading into densely populated cities Philadelphia and New York City.

NWS issued snow squall warnings that include Philadelphia and areas just west of New York City. A narrow band of snow associated with an Arctic front will be pushing through the area over the next couple of hours.

Accidents have been reported throughout western New York and western Pennsylvania through Wednesday afternoon.

The New York State Thruway deployed additional resources to western New York to assist with the winter storm, including extra plow operators and equipment.

The city of Buffalo, New York, declared a state of emergency on Wednesday afternoon.

"Please no unnecessary travel, this storm can shift at any moment & the sub zero temperatures make it hazardous," Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said in a tweet.

According to the New York Department of Transportation, all lanes on the I-390 Southbound between Brooks Avenue and East Henrietta Road in Gates are closed due to an accident.

Low visibility and treacherous travel conditions have been reported throughout the region.

12:12 p.m. CST Wednesday:

Homeowners have reported that their pipes have burst as a result of the subzero temperatures.

11:56 a.m. CST Wednesday:

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz declared a State of Emergency for Erie County due to the weather, as well as a travel ban that will be effective until 1:00 p.m. local time.

"All travel is prohibited. All cars must leave roads," Poloncarz tweeted.

11:45 a.m. CST Wednesday:

Police say at least two people in the Detroit area have died in the extremely cold weather, AP News reports.

Ecorse detective Tim Sassak tells TV station WDIV that the man was discovered Wednesday. The man wasn’t dressed for below-zero temperatures and wasn't wearing a hat or gloves, according to Sassak.

Sassak says police believe the man was disoriented. He was found across the street, near a neighbor’s house. Ecorse is located about 15 miles southwest of Detroit.

A 70-year-old man was found dead in front of a neighbor’s home Wednesday in Detroit. No names were released.

Including these deaths, there have been at least six fatalities linked to the extremely cold temperatures in the Midwest.

10:45 a.m. CST Wednesday:

The New York City Emergency Management Department issued a hazardous travel advisory for the Wednesday afternoon commute.

“New Yorkers should plan for hazardous travel during the evening commute and are advised to take mass transit where possible, delay travel or safely exit highways or roadways before the snow squall arrives,” the press release reads.

The advisory was prompted by a NWS Special Weather Statement for a line of snow showers and possible snow squalls in effect for New York City Wednesday afternoon, as an arctic cold front passes through the region. A line of snow showers and potentially squalls will last around 30 minutes to 1 hour will accompany this front.

“This intense burst of snowfall combined with strong wind gusts may cause brief whiteout conditions, limiting visibility and making travel extremely dangerous,” the press release reads.

10:21 a.m. CST Wednesday:

Due to the extreme cold weather in Chicago, air carriers at O'Hare International Airport have canceled nearly 1,335 flights and have reported minimal delays.

"Check flight status with carrier. Stay safe and warm friends," the airport said in a tweet.

More than 1,600 flights have been canceled at Chicago’s airports as double-digit subzero temperatures cover the region, according to the Associated Press (AP).

9:42 a.m. CST Wednesday:

The extremely cold air has led to a run water advisory in Big Rapids, Michigan, where temperatures have plummeted to subzero levels. The advisory was issued on Wednesday morning by city officials.

"The procedure for running water is to open one faucet to a pencil-lead size stream of cold water and allow that faucet to continue running water throughout the duration of the Advisory," the advisory announcement reads.

Run water advisories allow water to circulate through the pipes, preventing ice buildup in pipes.

Homeowners within the city who are running their water under the advisory are asked to notify the city treasurer’s office.

7:42 a.m. CST Wednesday:

According to, there are more than 36,000 customers without power in Illinois. Additionally, there are over 13,000 without power in Indiana and more than 8,000 in Wisconsin.

7:02 a.m. CST Wednesday:

The impacts to transportation continue to mount due to the brutal cold.

"Extreme weather conditions and an abundance of caution have led Amtrak to cancel all train originations to and from Chicago for Wednesday, Jan. 30, including short-distance corridor trains and long-distance overnight trains," Amtrak said in a statement. "Short-distance services are also canceled on Thursday, Jan. 31, and most long-distance services to or from Chicago are also not expected to originate on Jan. 31."

Over 1,000 flights have been canceled so far on Wednesday at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, according to FlightAware.

5:57 a.m. CST Wednesday:

The temperature hit minus 30 at the National Weather Service office in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Officials said the reading may be the all-time coldest for the office.

4:30 a.m. CST Wednesday:

A snow squall warning has been issued for parts of western Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh, until 6:15 a.m. EST. The warning includes portions of interstates 70, 279, 376 and 579.

Very poor visibility from heavy and blowing snow is expected, with wind gusts up to 30 mph.

"Consider avoiding or delaying travel until the snow squall passes your location," the National Weather Service warning said. "If you must travel, use extra caution and allow extra time. Rapid changes in visibility and slick road conditions may lead to accidents."

3:50 a.m. CST Wednesday:

Ahead of the leading edge of Arctic air, a line of snow showers and heavier squalls is advancing eastward from parts of northwestern Tennessee to western Pennsylvania. This line can drop a quick coating to an inch of snow while drastically lowering visibility on the roadways.

The line will advance toward the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston later Wednesday.

radar 3.50 am 1.30

2:15 a.m. CST Wednesday:

The temperature in Minneapolis has stayed below zero for over 24 hours, with the current temperature at minus 26. Temperatures will remain below zero through at least Thursday night, making it dangerous for people to be outside for any length of time.

12:20 a.m. CST Wednesday:

Most locations in the Midwest are experiencing actual temperatures in the minus 10s, 20s and 30s at this hour. This is much colder than Utqiaġvik (formally known as Barrow), the northern-most city in Alaska, where the temperature is minus 5.

10:45 p.m. CST Tuesday:

The current temperature in Detroit is 2 F, which is 27 degrees lower than this time on Monday night when it was 29 F. The forecast low of minus 7 on Tuesday night will break the daily record of minus 4 set in 1951.

9 p.m. CST Tuesday:

A band of heavy lake-effect snow with snow rates up to 2 inches per hour will push northward over Niagara and Orleans County in New York, before heading towards Buffalo, New York.

Early morning commuters will need to be cautious of road conditions tomorrow morning.

7:30 p.m. CST Tuesday:

The U.S. Postal Service announced that delivery will be suspended on Wednesday for Minnesota, western Wisconsin, Iowa and western Illinois.

The Minnesota Senate has canceled all hearings for Wednesday.

Road conditions will continue to deteriorate into the overnight hours. Illinois State Police report extremely icy road conditions on Interstate 80 between Ridge Road and River Road between mileposts 122 and 125.

6:45 p.m. CST Tuesday:

Wind chill warnings are in effect for all of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan and most of North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Blowing and drifting snow will continue to be an issue across the Great Lakes tonight through Wednesday as frequent gusts of 30-40 mph continue. Winds will also pick up on Wednesday across portions of the Northeast. This will lead to additional blowing and drifting snow.

The Interstate-95 corridor could be impacted this evening with a wintry mix followed by a rapid freeze-up.

Screen Shot 2019-01-29 at 7.26.40 PM.png

6:30 p.m. CST Tuesday:

The temperature in Chicago has fallen below zero and is expected to remain below this benchmark for over 48 hours. Although the mercury just dropped below zero, the AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature has been subzero since 4 a.m. CST Tuesday.

This extreme cold has caused hundreds of flight delays and cancellations at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport. More delays and cancellations are likely this week at these airports and others across the region due to the extended cold spell.

City officials are taking to the streets of Chicago to convince homeless people to go to shelters and warm centers to stay safe during the record-challenging chill, according to the Associated Press.

Chicago's Brookfield Zoo is also scheduled to be closed on Wednesday and Thursday due to the weather. This is only the fourth time in the zoo's 85-year history that it has closed.

In addition to causing AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperatures to plummet, biting winds are shipping around snow that fell across the north-central and midwestern U.S. on Sunday and Monday.

This blowing snow may reduce visibility and cover some roads, leading to difficult travel until the winds subside.

iowa plow truck

A plow truck driving along Highway 21 near Waterloo, Iowa. The road was partially covered by snow being blown around amid high winds. (Photo/IowaDOT)

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