Polar vortex causes a record-breaking freeze across the Midwest

Polar vortex: Parts of US set for record-breaking cold

It's so cold in Chicago people are being told not to talk or breathe too deeply

Millions of residents across the Midwest are experiencing extreme sub-zero temperatures this week, reaching almost 50 degrees below zero on Wednesday. By nightfall the mercury was hovering at 0F in Chicago, 7F (minus 14C) in Detroit and minus 21f (minus 29C) in Minneapolis.

The North Polar Vortex is an extremely cold counterclockwise spinning mass of air which usually sits over the Arctic Sea, but as global warming has melted Arctic Sea ice and warming air makes its way into the Earth's northernmost regions, the vortex is disrupted, causing the cold air to split up and some of it to move further south. Experts have warned residents to avoid breathing deeply when outside to avoid damaging their lungs. Even the city's supply of its signature deep-dish pizza was affected: The Lou Malnati's chain announced it would stop taking delivery orders at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. The overnight low in Boston was at minus 5, according to the National Weather Service. As much as 60cm of snow was forecast in Wisconsin.

"The Midwest and Great Lakes are well into this Arctic blast, with dangerously low wind chills widespread across the region this morning", meteorologist Janice Dean announced this week on "Fox and Friends".

Gilbert Rothschild, 79, walked through a corridor wearing three sweaters and an undershirt underneath his parka.

"Frostquakes" - loud booms caused by the sudden freezing and expansion of groundwater - startled Chicagoans, who (perhaps understandably) mistook them for gunfire.

Many Midwest cities opened warming shelter.

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This week's cold snap virtually shut the city down for a day, as everything from flights and public transit to the city's public school system and mail delivery in ZIP codes in Chicago and around IL was canceled for Wednesday and Thursday.

Football fans can look forward to a high of 47 degrees on Sunday as they prepare to watch the Super Bowl, the weather service said.

"Now whoever is outside is probably going to be outside", he said.

In Chicago, temperatures were still dropping after plunging early Wednesday to minus 19 degrees (negative 28 Celsius), breaking the day's previous record low set in 1966 - and colder than the weather in Barrow, Alaska, the most northern town in the U.S.

In Minnesota and Upper Michigan, people battled temperatures as low as minus 25F (minus 31C), said Andrew Orrison, a weather service forecaster. At least four deaths were linked to the weather Tuesday.

'These are VERY DANGEROUS conditions and can lead to frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes where wind chill values are below -50, ' the National Weather Service office near Minneapolis tweeted.

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Classes were cancelled for Wednesday and yesterday for students across the Midwest, including Chicago, home of the nation's third-largest school system, and police warned of the risk of accidents on icy highways.

Classes at Chicago Public Schools remain closed Thursday due to the unsafe weather.

Temperatures in Chicago will drop again "quite precipitously" on Wednesday night, Orrison said, potentially breaking the record low of minus 27 F (minus 33 C) on January 21, 1985, the day of Ronald Reagan's second presidential inauguration.

Scores of schools, businesses and government agencies announced closures in multiple states.

In addition to increasing the risk of dying from exposure, the dramatic drop in temperatures has left those living in substandard and older houses at an increased risk of losing their homes or lives in a fire, as many rely on faulty space heaters and other cheap but unsafe forms of heating to keep warm.

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