MINNEAPOLIS — The coldest, most dangerous blast of polar air in decades gripped the Midwest and pushed toward the East and South on Monday, closing schools and day care centers, grounding flights and forcing people to pull their hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite.
Many across the nation's midsection went into virtual hibernation, while others dared to venture out in temperatures that plunged well below zero.
"I'm going to try to make it two blocks without turning into crying man," said Brooks Grace, who was bundling up to do some banking and shopping in downtown Minneapolis, where temperatures reached 20 below, with wind chills of minus 50. "It's not cold — it's painful."
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 and Texas.
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.
Record lows were possible in the East and South, with highs in the single digits expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama. Below-zero wind chills were forecast up and down the coast, including minus 10 in Atlanta and minus 12 in Baltimore.
From the Dakotas to Maryland, schools and day care centers shut down.
"You definitely know when you are not wearing your thermal undergarments," said Staci Kalthoff, who raises cattle with her husband on a 260-acre farm in Albany, Minn., where the temperature hovered around 24 below zero and winds made it feel like minus 46. "You have to dress really, really warm and come in more often and thaw out everything."