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It’s So Incredibly Cold In The Midwest That Cities Are Basically Shutting Down

Forecasters said temperatures in the region were expected to be colder than the North Pole and potentially break all-time records.

Last updated on January 30, 2019, at 12:07 a.m. ET

Posted on January 29, 2019, at 9:40 p.m. ET

Extreme, life-threatening cold weather was forecast in the Midwest and upper Plains region through Wednesday after a split in the polar vortex poured frigid temperatures into the region.

John Ehlke / AP

In Chicago, the temperature fell below zero on Tuesday and wasn’t expected to rise above it again until Thursday evening. Windchills were forecast to drop as low as –50 degrees.

#Chicago officially fell below zero prior to 6pm at O'Hare and it may not get back to zero until Thursday evening. #Rockford fell below zero between 3pm and 4pm and may not get back to zero until Friday morning. #ilwx

In Minnesota, some of the coldest weather in decades was expected, with air temperatures there and across the Midwest forecast to be lower Wednesday than the North Pole, and windchills plunging as low as –65 degrees.

UFF DA...You betcha it's going to be cold! Check out these temps for Wednesday! #mnwx #wiwx

That’s the kind of cold that can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five minutes. In addition to keeping skin covered, the National Weather Service in Iowa reminded people to cover their mouths to protect from extremely cold air.

“Avoid taking deep breaths; minimize talking,” forecasters said.

David Joles / AP

Typically, cold air circles around the Earth’s poles, known as the polar vortex. But during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it can become destabilized — sending icy air farther from the poles, into the US and Canada. When there’s moisture in that cold air, which is more frequent because of global warming, that means heavy winter storms.

Over the next 36-hours: This center of the "polar vortex" enters the Lower 48 and tracks through Minnesota, over Chicago and Detroit before weakening & retracting into Ontario. (center of PV lobe tracked using 1000-500 hPa Thickness, GFS 12z)

Given those conditions, schools, businesses, and government facilities across several states planned to close Wednesday for safety reasons. Babies, older adults, and homeless people faced particularly high risks of frostbite and hypothermia, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned anyone spending time outside to wear dry, warm clothing and watch for warning signs.

Chicago Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the country, announced it would be closed Wednesday and Thursday due to the extreme weather.

Schools are closed Wednesday, January 30th, 2019 and Thursday, January 31st, 2019 due to inclement weather. District and network offices will be open. #staywarm

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced homeless shelters would have extra beds, and other public buildings would also operate as warming centers.

As temperatures continue to drop, we’re adding extra beds to shelters to ensure everyone in need has a safe, warm place to stay. No one in need of a shelter bed will be turned away. Those seeking access to #warmingcenters, a bed or experiencing inadequate heat should call 3-1-1.

In Chicago, the National Weather Service warned of life-threatening Arctic winds as well as blowing and drifting snow. The low temperature on Wednesday was forecast to reach –24 degrees and a high of just –15. With windchill, that low temperature could feel like –49 degrees, and forecasters said it was possible the weather could get even colder and break all-time records.

Thursday morning, the temperature could fall even further, to –26 degrees.

“Currently forecasting temperatures to reach or exceed the all-time record cold levels,” forecasters said. “The last time we saw cold even remotely comparable was 1994.”

In many Midwest cities, bars, restaurants, government offices, and cultural institutions planned to shut their doors.

REMINDER: We're shutting down at 7pm tonight and will be closed tomorrow due to the dangerous cold. Come stock up on crowlers (and get $6 off your 3-packs) to stock up!

It wasn’t worth the risk for people to leave home and go to work, a Wisconsin meteorologist said on Twitter, offering an excuse note to her followers.

It's about to be very cold, and many schools and offices are announcing closings for Wednesday & Thursday. In case yours hasn't, here's my permission to stay safely inside and at home.

Even the US Post Office planned to suspend delivery in some areas.

#BREAKING: Polar vortex suspending postal delivery in parts of eastern Montana and Minnesota tomorrow. #PolarVortex2019 #NBCMontana #mtwx #mtnews

Though Lyft was offering free rides to people in cities across the region needing help getting to warming centers.

To help our communities avoid the extreme cold caused by the polar vortex, we're providing Relief Rides to warming centers across Chicago, the Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Madison and Detroit until 2/1. https://t.co/nhOXdlN9rD

The area hit by the cold included tribal land, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs urged people to follow local warnings.

#IndianAffairs is tracking the Arctic Blast (#PolarVortex2019) throughout Indian Country. The BIA Branch of Geospatial Support has updated its real-time map to show temps over tribal lands. Please follow the directions issued by local authorities. https://t.co/G0D7t4ceSn

However, President Trump on Monday used the forecast to mock the scientific consensus on climate change.

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!

The tweet prompted a response from government scientists, who explained that winter storms are just more proof that global warming is changing the climate.

Winter storms don't prove that global warming isn't happening. https://t.co/LDqfq4JH9n

“Snowstorms require two things: moisture and freezing air temperatures,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. “There are plenty of places where winter temperatures would have to rise by 10, 20, even 30 degrees Fahrenheit before it would stop snowing. Until then, snowstorms remain quite possible, and natural climate patterns and random variability will still lead to winters that are unusually cold and snowy in different locations.”

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