The wind chill hit 33 below zero during the night at Massena, N.Y., and the National Weather Service predicted actual temperatures nearly that low in parts of the region by Thursday night.
The cold was record-breaking in many places, reports Early Show weather anchor Dave Price. It was the coldest Jan. 14 ever Flint, Mich (19 below zero) and International Falls, Minn. (42 below zero). The temperature hit 22 below zero in Minot, N.D. - 48 below with the wind chill factor.
And it wasn't just the Midwest, Price reports - even parts of Texas were below freezing.
By Friday, New York City is expected to feel 10 below zero, before temperatures finally start to moderate over the weekend, reports Price.
Winter-hardened people across northern New England bundled up amid warnings about how fast exposed skin can freeze.
"Anyone who sends their kid out today is out of the running for parent of the year," said Eric Friedman, a spokesman for Mad River Glen ski area in Fayston, Vt. A frostbite caution sign was posted at the ticket office, but few skiers were there to see it because of the 5-below-zero cold, Friedman said.
Schools from Iowa to Pennsylvania opened late so kids would not have to be out in the coldest part of the morning. Some schools closed.
"Awful," said University of Dayton student Lauren Weining, who put on two pairs of pants and three sweaters under her coat for a 10-minute walk to her job on the Ohio school's campus. "It's the longest 10 minutes I ever had this year."
No deaths were reported in the Northeast. A day earlier, a 51-year-old man in northern Wisconsin died from exposure after wandering from his Hayward home early Tuesday, authorities said. His son reported him missing and said he was prone to sleepwalking, and deputies followed footprints in the snow to find the man about 190 yards from his house, Sawyer County Chief Deputy Tim Zeigle said.
Doctors are recommending that people just stay indoors to avoid the cold, reports Price.
"Your ears, nose, anything exposed can really freeze quickly and it can freeze within three minutes," Dr. Rahul Khare, of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, told CBS News.
Besides frostbite, which has very visible symptoms, hypothermia is a real threat in these conditions. Hypothermia sets in when body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, slow breathing rates and pale skin. Anyone exhibiting signs of hypothermia should call for emergency help, put on dry clothes, drink warm, sweet drinks and move their extremities if possible, reports Price.
Poor visibility in blowing snow was blamed for a 20-car pileup that killed two people Wednesday in Indiana.
Mercifully, no major precipitation was forecast for New England. Parts of the region are still recovering from a Dec. 11 ice storm that tore down trees and power lines, cutting electricity to about 1 million homes and businesses in the Northeast- some for more than a week.
This was just arctic cold, the kind that numbs the face, kills car batteries and freezes unguarded water pipes. Residents of Ironwood, Mich., were told to keep faucets running to prevent freeze-ups after a major break left the city without water, said Gogebic County emergency services coordinator Jim Loeper.
"It slows you down a little bit. Your body doesn't move as fast as it should," said Shane West, 35, a roofer working on a house in Montpelier in 2-below cold. "Even for us, it can become a problem sometimes," he said, meaning Vermonters accustomed to cold weather.
A temperature around zero didn't faze truck driver Gary Jacobs, 49, of Barre, Vt., bundled in five layers - T-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, hooded sweatshirt and coat, in addition to snowpants, boots and a knit cap.
"People in Arizona say `It's a dry heat.' This is a fresh cold," Jacobs said.
But people who had a choice stayed inside - even skiers.
Vermont's Bolton Valley ski resort, where it was 10 below Wednesday morning, canceled night skiing through Friday night for fear that skiers could freeze if they were marooned on a malfunctioning ski lift.
A couple of ski areas in northern Minnesota closed for the day because of temperatures that reached 38 below zero at International Falls, with the wind chill during the night estimated at 50 below.
Homeless shelters were busy.
"We don't want anyone out there," said Kathryn Paquette, homeless outreach specialist of Southern New Hampshire Services in Nashua, N.H., which found rooms at rooming houses, motels and shelters for dozens.
Honda Motor Co. canceled two shifts at three Ohio plants so their roughly 5,000 workers wouldn't have to risk the cold and slippery roads, spokesman Ron Lietzke said.
Maine residents braced for nighttime readings down to 40 below zero. And in the Midwest, Iowans were warned that temperatures could drop as far as 27 below zero during the night, matching a Jan. 15 record set in 1972.
Temperatures Thursday were expected to range from 10 below zero in the far north to the low teens in southern coastal areas.
Farther south, morning temperatures were in the 20s from Texas to Georgia, and along the Gulf Coast the weather service reported a low of just 28 at Mobile, Ala.
Even northern Georgia and Kentucky could see single-digit lows by Friday, with zero possible at Lexington, Ky., the weather service warned. Kentucky hasn't been that cold since December 2004.
But as the Gulf Coast city of Pensacola, Fla., fell to 40 degrees, Brazilian tourist Vitor Rocha wore shorts and sandals for a stroll with a friend.
"We are not disappointed in the weather today, this is something unusual for us," he said.