US Polar Vortex Blamed for at Least 21 Deaths

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Frozen Minnehaha Falls is shown Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019, in Minneapolis.

Frozen Arctic winds brought record-low temperatures across much of the US Midwest on Wednesday, unnerving residents accustomed to brutal winters and keeping them huddled indoors as offices and schools remained closed and even mail carriers halted their rounds.

And the sub-zero cold and bitter winds will stick around for a couple of days, possibly bringing dozens of record lows with a life-threatening freeze before dissipating by the weekend, the National Weather Service reported (NWS). Crews in Detroit will need days to fix water mains that burst Wednesday. More than 5,000 people in the Twin Cities were without power Tuesday night, as the temperature fell to -25 degrees Fahrenheit. And next week will begin with a high of 51 on Monday and an even balmier 56 the next day, according to AccuWeather. On the contrary, the researchers found that cold waves like the one the United States is experiencing now have become rarer. The arctic conditions caused problems from Buffalo to Brooklyn, where about 200 firefighters battling an early morning blaze in a commercial building took turns getting warm on buses.

Authorities in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin put emergency measures in place to handle the frigid weather.

As of Thursday morning, the Weather Service still thought the record could be possible.

All-time records are in jeopardy this week as the coldest air in a generation descends from the Arctic into the Lower 48.

At least 2,700 flights were canceled nationwide, more than half of them at Chicago's two main airports.

Another significant record is in jeopardy in Chicago; Thursday morning lows will plummet close to the city's record low temperature of minus-27, set on January 20, 1985. Milwaukee had similar conditions. This process previously played out in 2014, when a mass of Arctic air drifted south, breaking temperature records across the United States and causing the deaths of at least 21 people.

The wind chill temperature is more than a catchy forecast term.

The CTA plans to operate its train and bus service as scheduled, though it delays emerged on almost all lines as rush hour began.

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Postal services were unable to deliver mail in parts of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, the Dakotas and Nebraska.

A blast of Arctic air from the polar vortex brought risky, bone-chilling cold to a wide swathe of the United States on Tuesday (Jan 29), stretching from the Dakotas through ME, with snow expected as far south as Alabama and Georgia.

So far, at least six deaths have been attributed to this week's cold temperatures.

An 82-year-old man in central IL died in the cold weather after authorities say he was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home in Peoria County.

In Michigan, state and utility officials warned residents that they risked brief interruptions of natural gas service if they didn't help reduce energy. Chicago is supposed to enter positive temperature territory on Thursday.

The system's icy grip also took a heavy toll on infrastructure, halting transportation, knocking out electricity and interrupting water service.

In Detroit, where some water mains are nearly 150 years old, city workers were dealing with dozens of breaks, said Palencia Mobley, deputy director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

About 1,300 of Wednesday's canceled flights in Chicago were at O'Hare International Airport, one of the nation's busiest airports. Several families who meant to leave for Pennsylvania stood in ticket lines at Chicago's Union Station only to be told all trains were cancelled until Friday.

"Had I known we'd be stranded here, we would have stayed in Mexico longer - where it was warmer", said Anna Ebersol, who was traveling with her two sons.