Polar vortex: US in grip of 'most dangerous' temperatures in decades

US coldWind chills across the region were 40 below F (40 below C) and colder. (AP)

The coldest, most dangerous blast of polar air in decades gripped the U.S. 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 Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius).

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 23 below F (-31 C), with wind chills of minus 48 F (minus 45 Celsius). "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 F (minus 27 C). Wind chills across the region were 40 below F (40 below C) and colder. Records also fell in Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana.

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 F (minus 17 to minus 13 C) expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama. Wind chills were expected to reach minus 10 F (minus 23 C) in Atlanta and minus 12 (minus 24 C) in Baltimore.

From the Dakotas to Maryland, schools and day care centers shut down.

For a big swath of the Midwest, the bone-chilling cold moved in behind another winter wallop: more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous.

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