A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a “polar vortex” descended Monday into much of the U.S., pummeling parts of the country with a dangerous cold that could break decades-old records with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.

For a big chunk of the Midwest, the subzero temperatures were moving in behind another winter wallop: more than a foot of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous. Officials closed schools in cities including Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee and warned residents to stay indoors and avoid the frigid cold altogether.

The forecast is extreme: 32 below zero in Fargo, N.D.; minus 21 in Madison, Wis.; and 15 below zero in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago.  Wind chills — what it feels like outside when high winds are factored into the temperature — could drop into the minus 50s and 60s.

It hasn’t been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the country. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at 15 to 30 below zero.

Roads were treacherous across the region. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard upgraded the city’s travel emergency level to “red,” making it illegal for anyone to drive except for emergencies or to seek shelter. The city hasn’t issued such a travel warning since 1978.

National Weather Service meteorologist Philip Schumacher urged motorists in the Dakotas — where wind chills were as low as the minus 50s — to carry winter survival kits and a charged cellphone in case they became stranded.

For several Midwestern states, the bitter cold was adding to problems caused by a weekend snow storm.  The National Weather Service said the snowfall at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport totaled more than 11 inches — the most since the Feb. 2, 2011, storm that shut down the city’s famed Lake Shore Drive.

Police in suburban Detroit said heavy snow was believed to have caused a roof to collapse at an empty building in Lake Orion on Sunday evening.  No one was hurt.  More than 10 inches of snow fell on Detroit and over 16 inches coated nearby Flint, Mich.

Missouri transportation officials said it was too cold for rock salt to be effective, and several Illinois roadways were closed because of drifting snow.

More than 1,000 flights were canceled Sunday at airports throughout the Midwest including Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

Many cities came to a virtual standstill. In St. Louis, where more than 10 inches of snow fell, the Gateway Arch, St. Louis Art Museum and St. Louis Zoo were part of the seemingly endless list of things closed.  Shopping malls and movie theaters closed, too. Even Hidden Valley Ski Resort, the region’s only ski area, shut down.

School was called off Monday for the entire state of Minnesota, as well as cities and districts in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, and Iowa, among others. Chicago Public School officials reversed an earlier decision to keep schools open, announcing late in the day Sunday that classes would be canceled Monday.

Government offices and courts in several states closed Monday.  In Indiana, the General Assembly postponed the opening day of its 2014 session, and the state appellate courts, including the Indiana Supreme Court, said they would be closed.

More than 40,000 homes and businesses in Indiana, 16,000 in Illinois and 2,000 in Missouri were without power early Monday.  Indianapolis spokesman Marc Lotter said emergency crews accompanied about 350 people to shelters around the city.

Continuing a decades-old practice, Chicago Transit Authority was handing out fare cards to social service agencies to be distributed to the homeless so they could ride buses and trains to stay out of the cold.

Southern states were bracing for possible record temperatures too, with single-digit highs expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.

Temperatures plunged into the 20s early Monday in north Georgia, the frigid start of dangerously cold temperatures for the first part of the week.  The Georgia Department of Transportation said its crews were prepared to respond to reports of black ice in north Georgia.

Temperatures were expected to dip into the 30s in parts of Florida on Tuesday, they were still worried about the citrus chops freezing in their state, as were fruits and vegetables being a concern in other parts of the South.

With two freezing nights ahead, Louisiana citrus farmers could lose any fruit they cannot pick in time.

If you are wondering about my location…currently minus 17 degrees below zero,  wind 9 miles an hour, making the wind chill a minus 36 degrees below zero.  I have not been outside my house since Friday afternoon when it was 42 degrees above.  Maximum wind chill yesterday was a freezing minus 51 degrees.

 

 

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