Julio Orozco finally arrived home in Santa Rosa on Monday, two days later than expected after frigid winter weather grounded his return flight from the East Coast and paralyzed a broad section of the nation's transportation system.
“I'm relieved to be home, but exhausted,” Orozco said.
The coldest, most dangerous blast of polar air in decades gripped the Midwest and pushed toward the East and South on Monday, closing schools, grounding flights and forcing people to pull their hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite.
Deep Freeze in East, South U.S.
Tommy Groff, 10, of Wilmington, Del., gets his glasses fogged up while out walking his dog, Tuesday, January 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Wilmington News-Journal)
Doc Cheng bundles up with her chihuahua Happy as she braves a cold Arctic blast that brought temperatures down to 6 degrees above zero, closing local schools and shattering cold weather records, on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Tulis)
At 8:30 a.m. the temperature outside the United Bank building is minus two degrees in Charleston, W. Va., Tuesday Jan. 7, 2014. Brutal, record-breaking cold descended on the East and South, sending the mercury plummeting Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Daily Mail, Craig Cunningham )
With temperatures below zero, Brenda Williams, 53, of Charleston, braves the cold to get her haircut downtown Charleston, W.Va. Her glasses had frosted over and she could barely see. (AP Photo/The Daily Mail, Craig Cunningham)
Traffic backs up along I-75 due to icy conditions on pavement in Detroit, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Virginia Kathryn Hosby is bundled up as she walks to the store in Winchester, Va., on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Winchester Star, Ginger Perry)
Cold air vapor forms from the breathe of pedestrians on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Project H.O.M.E. Outreach Response Worker Sam Santiago encourages Carl, a homeless man, to come in out of the cold, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Project H.O.M.E. Outreach Response Worker Sam Santiago, center, encourages a homeless man sleeping under a bridge to come in out of the cold Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Ramon Perez of Mexico who is homeless, comes in out of the cold after speaking with Project H.O.M.E. Outreach Response Worker Sam Santiago, (not seen), Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Paul Forcella of Rochester, N.Y., stands at the end of Irondequoit Bay Pier during the freezing temps Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Democrat & Chronicle, Max Schulte)
The Capitol is seen through a frozen fountain at the Alabama Association of Realtors in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Amanda Sowards)
A nearly frozen Tidal Basin surrounds the Jefferson Memorial at the National Mall in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Emily Aaron, 8, enjoys the warmth of the school bus before heading to class at Hutchison Beach Elementary in Panama City Beach, Fla. on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/News Herald, Andrew Wardlow)
The Chicago skyline is photographed behind a large chunk of ice near North Avenue Beach as cold temperatures remain with wind chills nearing minus-30 Fahrenheit on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
The 8.7 inches of snow that blanketed Indianapolis on Sunday left a covering draped on the statue of President Abraham Lincoln in Indianapolis on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo / The Indianapolis Star, Charlie Nye)
Buyers are bundled up as record low temperatures didn't stop the foreclosure sale on the steps of the Fulton County Courthouse Tuesday Jan. 7, 2014, in Atlanta Ga. (AP Photo / Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Brant Sanderlin)
Ice-covered plants are seen in Panama City Beach, Fla. on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo / The News Herald, Andrew Wardlow)
Passengers at Union Station after their Amtrak train from Los Angeles became stuck in snow drifts on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
Garret Kelenske, 49, works to remove snow on the sidewalk along Hoyt Street near Sacred Heart Church in Muskegon Heights, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo / The Muskegon Chronicle, Ken Stevens)
Ralph Wafer clears his driveway of snow outside his home Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)
Cecy Wang, right, clears snow off her car as Samuel Scott, left, shovels a sidewalk Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo / Jeff Roberson)
Ice hangs on a fire hydrant and hose as Ann Arbor firefighters work to put out a fire at Happy's Pizza in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo / The Ann Arbor News, Courtney Sacco)
This image captured by NOAA's GOES-East satellite on Jan. 6, 2014, at 11:01 a.m. EST shows a frontal system that is draped from north to south along the U.S. East Coast. Behind the front lies the clearer skies and bitter cold air associated with the polar vortex. (AP Photo / NASA)
Ice forms on debris on the Brooklyn waterfront near the Manhattan Bridge in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo / Peter Morgan)
A cold sun rises over the city of Johnstown, Pa. Tuesday Jan. 7, 2014. The temperature was at minus-18 degrees at 8 a.m. (AP Photo / The Tribune-Democrat, Todd Berkey)
A person walks in frigid temperatures near Constitution Avenue, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo / Luis M. Alvarez)
Forecasters said some 187 million people in all could feel the effects of the “polar vortex” by the time it spread across the country on Monday night and Tuesday.
Temperatures in downtown Minneapolis reached 23 below Monday, with wind chills of minus 48. “It's not cold — it's painful,” said Brooks Grace, who was bundling up to do some banking and shopping.
The mercury also dropped into negative territory in Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago, which set a record for the date at minus 16. Wind chills across the region were 40 below and colder. Records also fell in Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana.
Authorities in Indiana and Kentucky — where temperatures dropped into the single digits and below, with wind chills in the minus 20s and worse — warned people not to leave their homes at all unless they needed to go someplace safer.
Utility crews in Indiana worked to restore power to more than 40,000 customers affected by the weekend storm and cautioned that some people could be in the cold and dark for days.