What we know about the deep freeze
- At least 9 weather-related deaths across U.S. have been reported
- 2 were killed in a car crash in Indiana; 3 other deaths in Iowa were attributed to the storm; a man was fatally struck by a snowplow in Illinois; another man was found dead outside his home in Detroit; another man collapsed and died after shoveling snow in Milwaukee
- As of Wednesday evening, there have been more than 3,601 flight cancellations; there were 3,669 delays within, into, or out of the U.S.; total delays were 14,867, according to FlightAware
GM suspends production at Flint Assembly due to exteme temperatures
UAW Local 598, the union that represents GM workers at the Flint, Michigan, plant, said in a Facebook post late Wednesday that Consumers Energy has requested General Motors to suspend production due to extreme temperatures.
The night and overnight shifts were halted Wednesday, and the first shift for Thursday has been canceled.
The union recommended calling the plant hotline for additional updates. 1-877-574-5169.
Near-record low temperatures reported Wednesday
Chicago dropped to a low of around minus 23, slightly above the city's lowest-ever reading of minus 27 from January 1985.
Milwaukee had similar conditions.
Minneapolis recorded minus 27.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota, saw minus 25.
Frigid wind chills reportedly made the temperatures feel like minus 50 or worse. The Associated Press writes downtown Chicago streets were largely deserted after most offices told employees to stay home.
Thursday's forecast in Chicago is expected to be arctic again. Some isolated areas could see as low as minus 40, according to the National Weather Service. Daytime highs could climb into the single digits before warming up to the balmy 20s by Friday.
Latest forecast from CBS Chicago meteorologist Megan Glaros
Snow squall packs a punch as polar vortex hits Northeast
A powerful snow squall socked the Tri-State area Wednesday afternoon, bringing extreme cold on its heels, CBS New York reports.
Heavy wind gusts of 37 mph were recorded during the squall, and the intense snowfall -- though brief -- made conditions on the roads and streets hazardous.
A wind advisory was in effect until 7 p.m., followed by a wind chill advisory from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m., according to CBS NY. Gusts up to 50 miles an hour are possible.
Videos posted to social media showed the impact of the squall.
Multiple people injured after massive pile-up in Pennsylvania
At least 27 cars were involved in an weather-related pile-up Wednesday afternoon on Route 222, about 60 miles west of Philadelphia. At least nine people were hospitalized, CBS affiliate WHP-TV reports. A reporter there said two people are in critical condition.
Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation confirmed to WHP-TV the crash was the result of snow squalls moving through the area.
Video provided by the Reading Eagle shows the extent of the accident.
Officials said all lanes on Route 222 have been reopened. Wyomissing Police Chief Jeffrey Biel told The Associated Press some of the cars were just stuck at the crash site and were not damaged.
Footage from the area shows jackknifed big rigs and some cars off the roadway and down embankments.
Don't tell Mom
A college student braved subzero temperatures in Minneapolis in shorts Tuesday, but he'd rather have people keep that under their hat. The Star Tribune newspaper posted a picture of the University of Minnesota student with his face covered to the paper's Instagram account.
The photo caption said the student wouldn't provide his name "because he said his mom would be mad at him."
7 rescued from iced-over water in Wisconsin
Seven people were rescued from iced-over water in Wisconsin, the Coast Guard said. They had been in an ice shanty and were unable to return to shore because of difficulties with their utility task vehicle and bad weather.
The Coast Guard and the state Department of Natural Resources responded to the scene with airboats about a mile northeast of Snake Island near Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Rescuers reported large snowdrifts and a temperature of 4 below zero with a wind chill factor of minus 30.
No injuries were reported.
Watch boiling water freeze in midair
It was cold enough for boiling water to freeze in midair in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. CNET senior producer Dan Patterson's family submitted a short video of the phenomenon from the Hawkeye State.
Viewers can watch the video in the player above. The National Weather Service forecast a high temperature of 15 below zero for Cedar Rapids on Wednesday afternoon.
Frostbite can set in within 5 minutes at -50 wind chill
The powerful arctic blast that has descended on Chicago could bring the wind chill as low as minus 60, CBS News correspondent Don Dahler reports. The National Weather Service said frostbite can set in within five minutes at minus 50 wind chill and within 15 minutes at minus 25.
The most vulnerable population are homeless people. About 16,000 people are homeless in Chicago.
The city has put another 500 beds in its 160 shelters. Officials have also made five city buses available as temporary warming shelters.
The city's more than 600 schools were closed Wednesday and Thursday because of the dangerous temperatures, affecting more than 360,000 students. The weather service is advising anyone traveling Wednesday to carry emergency supplies, including three days' worth of food and water in case they get stranded.
"It's too dangerous for people to be out here"
In Minneapolis, police hit the streets Tuesday to help those in need, CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan reports. They handed out free gloves to kids in low-income neighborhoods.
"It's important just to connect with the community and make sure people are safe in this weather," Officer Mike Kirchen said. Later in the evening, officers took Morgan and his crew through the city looking for homeless people to help.
"The reality of it is it's too dangerous for people to be out here on the street," Sgt. Grant Snyder said. They encountered a man sleeping outside in 20-below weather.
He eventually allowed officers to call an ambulance for him. "Got him out, picked him up, got him in the ambulance," Snyder said. "Now I know he's going to sleep someplace safe and be assessed by a doctor."
Snyder said the man was showing the beginning signs of frostbite, so it was crucial to get him off the streets.
Temps making everyday tasks almost unbearable
The combination of snow and below-average temperatures is making everyday tasks almost unbearable, CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan reports from Minneapolis. In Fargo, North Dakota, emergency responders braved temperatures hovering around 20 below zero to assist victims in a car crash.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, whiteout conditions are being blamed for a chain reaction of crashes involving at least two dozen vehicles. No was one was killed.
The arctic blast also put a stop to public transportation. Amtrak canceled all of its trains at Chicago's Union Station due to the extreme cold.
USPS to suspend service in some states
The United States Postal Service said Tuesday it will not deliver mail to areas some parts of the country on Wednesday due to the extreme cold brought on by the polar vortex.
Service will be suspended Wednesday in parts of Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois (including parts of Chicago), Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, western Pennsylvania, the Dakotas and Nebraska, the USPS said.
In addition to deliveries, pickups from businesses, residences and collection boxes are also suspended.
NASA releases image of the polar vortex
NASA has shared an image of the polar vortex that combines NASA Earth science and other satellite measurements of temperature, moisture, wind speeds and directions, and other conditions.
NASA wrote on its website: A large area of low pressure and extremely cold air usually swirls over the Arctic, with strong counter-clockwise winds that trap the cold around the Pole. But disturbances in the jet stream and the intrusion of warmer mid-latitude air masses can disturb this polar vortex and make it unstable, sending Arctic air south into middle latitudes. That has been the case in late January 2019.
Forecasters are predicting that air temperatures in parts of the continental United States will drop to their lowest levels since at least 1994, with the potential to break all-time record lows for Jan. 30 and 31.
Chicago is expected to be colder than Mount Everest base camp
Chicago is set to experience one of its coldest days on record, with the high temperature expected to be 12 degrees below zero on Wednesday, CBS Chicago reports. That would make it colder than some of the most frigid places on Earth.
While Chicago freezes, the South Pole is expected to reach a high temperature of 4 below zero Wednesday, CBS Chicago reported. And the northernmost point in the United States -- Barrow, Alaska -- will be 7 below zero.
That's right, a city that is located above the Arctic Circle is expected to be warmer than Chicago.
Experts warn about sub-zero temperatures
With frigid temperatures on the horizon, experts are warning about hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia starts setting in when a person's body temperature drops from the normal 98.6 degrees F to about 95 degrees. The body begins to shut down. Heart and breathing rates slow down, accompanied by confusion and sleepiness.
"Hypothermia is a medical emergency when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. As your body temperature drops, your heart, brain, and internal organs cannot function. Without aggressive resuscitation and rapid rewarming, you will ultimately not survive," explains Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital.
"Without rapid rewarming, your heart rate and breathing slows even further, leading to poor circulation to the brain, heart and extremities, which is fatal," Glatter said.
How long it takes for someone to freeze to death depends on conditions and the type of exposure, but death can occur in under an hour if conditions are dangerous enough. It can happen even more quickly in a situation such as falling through ice into freezing water.
The elderly and infants are especially vulnerable to hypothermia, according to CBS News' Dr. Tara Narula.
What is the polar vortex?
The frigid air will come from a brief visit by the polar vortex -- which is a real meteorological phenomenon, not just a sensational headline. It's a whirling mass of cold air circulating in the mid- to upper-levels of the atmosphere, present every winter.
It usually stays closer to the poles but sometimes breaks apart, sending chunks of Arctic air southward into the U.S. during winter.
This week's particularly cold outbreak may be explained by the relative lack of cold air so far this winter in the eastern U.S. Instead of the cold air bleeding south a little at a time, it's coming all at once.
Is the polar vortex connected to climate change?
A counterintuitive theory about the polar vortex is gaining ground among some in the climate science community: Regional cold air outbreaks may be getting an "assist" from global warming. While it may not seem to make sense at first glance, scientifically it's consistent with the extremes expected from climate change.
Overall, Earth is warming due to climate change, but areas near the North Pole are warming more than 2 times faster than the rest of the globe. This "Arctic Amplification" is especially pronounced in winter.
When warm air invades the Arctic Circle, it weakens the polar vortex, displacing cold air masses southward into Europe, Asia and the United States. You might think of it as a once tight-knit circulation unraveling, slinging pieces of cold air outward.
Chicago residents seek shelter in underground walkway system
Some Chicago residents are seeking refuge from the blistering cold in the city's underground walkway system. CBS Chicago spoke with two men finding warmth there before sub-zero temperatures hit the city.
Steven Garron sells StreetWise magazines to pay his rent in Dolton, but Marine veteran Joshua Stockwell doesn't have a place to live, so he sleeps on the CTA trains at night. "I hope and pray the K9 unit don't kick me off the train," he said.
With temperatures that could hit 23 below zero overnight, Stockwell knows it might not be warm enough even on the train. Stockwell said shelters won't accept him or his service dog, who helps him with seizures and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"I don't know what else to do," Stockwell said.
Garron said he lives in southwest suburban Dolton, and takes two buses downtown so he can sell magazines on the Pedway to be able to pay rent.
"I just got to do it, because I need my rent money. I'd rather have the rent money than to be outside, homeless," he said. But he won't be taking that bus trip on Wednesday, when temperatures might not get above 14 below zero.