Polar vortex: Millions hit by freezing temperatures in US

The James J. Versluis an icebreaker tugboat breaks ice through Lake Michigan in Chicago

The US polar vortex explained

- AP A jogger runs along the lakefront as temperature hung around -20 degrees on January 30, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.

Officials said temperatures were below the freezing mark in 85 percent of the country, excluding Alaska and Hawaii.

Chicago recorded a low temperature of about minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 Celsius) - not a record, but close to it. Minneapolis recorded minus 27 F (minus 32 C).

A young man waits on a subway platform in freezing temperatures on January 30, 2019 in NY.

The deep freeze has gripped the American Midwest where the weather is colder than Antarctica.

And that does not include wind chill, which in northern IL made the air feel as cold as -49.4C.

Unlike most Chicago residents, Gilbert was required to report to his job at a Starbucks located on a downtown street largely devoid of its usual bustle of people and traffic.

It's so cold that NY got a rare snow squall, which is basically a short-lived whiteout, Minnesota was invaded by frozen trousers, Chicago's transit workers are setting the tracks on fire to keep the trains running, and Donald Trump displayed his ignorance about the effects of global warming. The hardiest commuters ventured out only after covering almost every square inch of flesh against the extreme chill, which froze ice crystals on eyelashes and eyebrows in minutes. Some buses were turned into mobile warming shelters to help the homeless in Chicago.

Mail carriers, known for making deliveries through rain, sleet and snow, draw the line at life-threatening cold.

More than 30 record lows were shattered across the Midwest.

At least eight deaths have been linked to the system, including an elderly IL man who was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home. Sunrise temperatures in the city were -23°F, and high temperatures today were forecast to only reach -14°.

The polar vortex is a mass of freezing air that normally spins around the North Pole, but has slipped southward and swirled into the United States, forecasters said.

The cold weather was even affecting beer deliveries, with a pair of western Wisconsin distributors saying they would delay or suspend shipments for fear that beer would freeze in their trucks. The weather station at the Moline Quad-City Airport sent a reading of minus-29 degrees at 11:19 p.m., which was enough to break the record, and then continued to drop even further through the early-morning hours Thursday.

"It is not out of bounds with the historical record", University of Miami professor Ben Kirtman said. "You get storms that are bigger than other storms".

Government scientists said increased moisture in the atmosphere because of global warming might bring on a higher number of severe snowstorms in the winter and more powerful hurricanes in the summer. "Heavens, it's very cold", said Vijen Nadasan, 49, a tourist from Johannesburg, South Africa, who planned to spend the day sightseeing with his wife and daughter.

Tips for keeping warm are being shared online by hardy Chicagoans including wearing rubber gloves, avoiding wearing denim and keeping on the move if you are outside.

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