Extreme Cold Kills 4, Paralyzes Midwest

Polar Vortex-Triggered Cold Outbreak So Cold That...
  • At least 4 deaths have been linked to the cold.
  • Schools and universities are closed throughout the Midwest.
  • The U.S. Postal Service suspends service in parts of several states.
  • Wind chill temperatures dropped to -66 degrees Fahrenheit in Minnesota Wednesday morning.

The polar vortex is gripping the Midwest Wednesday with the coldest Arctic air in a generation, killing at least four people, forcing widespread school and government office closures, and in a rarity, prompting the U.S. Postal Service to suspend delivery to a widespread swath of the region.

The extreme cold is responsible for at least four deaths.

An unidentified former member of the Ecorse City Council was found dead near a neighbor’s house Wednesday. The former councilman was reportedly clothed in inappropriate clothing for the cold and without a hat and gloves, the Associated Press reports.

In Detroit, a 70-year-old unidentified man was also found dead in front of a neighbor’s home Wednesday.

18-year-old University of Iowa student Gerald Belz was found dead on campus Wednesday morning, KCRG reports. The exact details leading up to his death are unclear, but officials told the news station that the cold weather was to blame.

An 82-year-old Peoria County, Illinois man was found dead after he tripped and fell outside his home and fell victim to the cold temperatures, NEWS 25 reports.

The break in the Polar Votex brought a wind chill of -66 degrees Fahrenheit in Minnesota overnight and wind chills of -58 degrees Fahrenheit in Wisconsin and Iowa.

The cold prompted several major Midwest universities to close, including the University of Notre Dame, the University of Minnesota, the University of North Dakota, the University of Wisconsin, the University of South Dakota and Iowa State University.

In a rare move, the cold prompted the U.S. Postal Service to ignore the popular saying, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Instead, the service decided to suspend mail delivery on Wednesday to parts or all of several Midwest states, including North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois.

Here’s a full breakdown of how different states in the Midwest are handling the bitter cold:


Behind the snow from Winter Storm Jayden, freezing temperatures came into Illinois, prompting a state of emergency and forcing numerous closures.

Temperatures dipped to -23 degrees Fahrenheit Wednesday morning at Chicago’s O’Hare, with a wind chill of 49 degrees below zero. The last time temperatures dropped below -20 degrees Fahrenheit in the Windy City was Jan. 18, 1994.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined governors in Michigan and Wisconsin to declare a state of emergency Tuesday. Earlier in the day, the governor said the State Emergency Operations Center was enacting an emergency preparedness plan, noting that the weather forecast for Tuesday through Thursday could be “potentially historic.”

Calling the brutal cold a “public health risk,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said city agencies are making sure homeless people are in shelters or offered space in five Chicago Transit Authority buses, the AP reports.

“These (conditions) are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately,” Emanuel said. “They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures.”

The Salvation Army told weather.com they are partnering with city officials to conduct well-being checks. It’s also providing meals at shelters, delivering cold weather gear packages and deploying mobile feeding and homeless outreach units to 31 locations in the city.

Chicagoland schools and most colleges in the state are closed Wednesday and Thursday.

The Brookfield Zoo is closed on Wednesday and Thursday because of the frigid weather. This will be only the fourth time the zoo has closed during its 85-year history.

Other Chicago attractions closed Wednesday include the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum.

Amtrak suspended service in and out of Chicago Wednesday. Typically, 55 trains come in and out of the Chicago hub.

To prevent train tracks from contracting under the bitter cold, Chicago transit authorities set fire to the tracks.

The Chicago Transit Authority noted that the extreme cold can cause mechanical issues so commuters should expect delays.

More than 1,400 flights have been canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Wednesday, according to a tweet posted by the airport.

According to poweroutage.us, more than 28,000 customers are without power in Illinois as of Wednesday morning.


In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency Monday for the work week because of snow and frigid temperatures. Schools were also closed throughout the state as temperatures plummeted.

“I want to make sure all state assets are available, including the Wisconsin National Guard if needed, to help communities across the state and keep people warm and safe,” Evers said.

(MORE: Here’s the Coldest It’s Ever Been in Your State)

The governor also issued an executive order closing all non-essential offices Wednesday. However, the state Capitol remained open Wednesday.

The Ice Castles attraction, about 90 miles from Chicago on Lake Geneva, closed Wednesday.

“The health and safety of our guests and our staff is our number one priority,” Ice Castles CEO Ryan Davis said in a statement. “No one should be outdoors for an extended amount of time in extreme sub-zero temperatures.”


In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency Monday night. Hundreds of schools were canceled for Wednesday and nonessential government offices were also closed, including the Capitol.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said homeless shelters in the city were becoming “overloaded.” They also were filling up in Detroit.

“People don’t want to be out there right now,” said Brennan Ellis, 53, who is taking shelter at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

Numerous schools, attractions, government offices and business closed Wednesday. Central Michigan University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, among others, are also closed.

Two dozen water mains froze in Detroit, the Associated Press reports.


More than 8,000 residents in the Twin Cities found themselves without power overnight during one of the coldest nights in years.

The cold cracked rail along the Minneapolis light-rail system, forcing trains onto a single track, the Associated Press reported.

The extreme cold prompted the Minnesota Department of Transportation to halt snowplow operations in in 11 southeastern counties. MDot officials said the cold was causing mechanical issues with the snowplows.

As with most states gripped by the dangerous cold, schools, government offices and businesses are closed.


Numerous schools and universities, including the Ohio State University, Ohio University, Cincinnati, Miami, Akron, Youngstown State, Kent State and Bowling Green State are closed Wednesday. Some will remain closed through Friday.

In Toledo, all non-essential city offices are closed through Thursday. Courthouses, libraries and many county agencies in Toledo also will be shut down through Friday.

In Cleveland, county buildings and courthouses are closed Wednesday.


An Indiana State Trooper tweeted Wednesday that Interstate 65 was becoming a “parking lot with broken down semis.” Master Trooper Glen Fifield said the problem stems from fuel filters freezing and gelled fuel.

A Zebra died due to cold exposure in Carroll County. The Zebra got stuck in the fence and froze in the extreme cold.

The temperature fell to -11 degrees Fahrenheit Wednesday in Indianapolis, which tied the record low for the date set in 1966.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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Jerry Jackson rides his bike on a cold day on Cochrane Street on Jan. 29, 2019, in Detroit, Mich., after Winter Storm Jayden hit the area. Millions of Americans braced Tuesday for a dangerous polar vortex which began to settle over a large swath of the United States, threatening to set new records as schools and businesses closed and authorities warned of frostbite. Temperatures in almost a dozen states stretching over 1,200 miles from the Dakotas to Ohio were forecast to be the coldest in a generation, if not on record. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images)

2019-01-30 23:49:16

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