Polar vortex with life-threatening low temps targets Midwest and Northeast

Life-threatening low temperatures to hit U.S.

More than 20 million Americans are in the path of a brutal winter storm and life-threatening low temperatures Monday, with blizzard and winter storm warnings in effect across the Midwest. More than a foot of snow is expected in some areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

More than 800 flights are canceled in the region. A "polar vortex" bringing record low temperatures will hit millions from the Midwest to the Northeast this week. By Wednesday, at least 55 million people will face temperatures at zero or below.

In Highland Park, Illinois, up to nine inches of snow is expected. With dangerously low temperatures rolling in, and wind chill temps reaching about negative 50 degrees, anyone outside risks getting frostbite, reports CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds.

The arctic blast punished travelers across the middle of the country. In Erie, Pennsylvannia, white-out conditions caused a mess on major highways. Plows were working overtime in Cedar Rapids, Iowa overnight where heavy snow made roads nearly impassable for drivers.

Stunning drone video showed the impact of below zero temperatures on Lake Erie, with ice sheets and dunes forming over 85 percent of the lake.

The bitter cold is prompting emergency warming shelters to be set up across the Midwest to the Northeast for those in need. 

EMTs in Milwaukee have seen an increase of 15 to 20 calls a day from the freezing temperatures.

"Frostbites, hypothermia… and just people being out in the elements," one EMT worker described. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city is working around the clock to make sure warming areas are staffed and people are safe.

"The city is going to be up, running. It's going to be safe for our residents. That is our number one goal," Emanuel said.

In the week ahead, the Chicago area could see the coldest temperatures in decades. Chicago saw its lowest temperatures at negative 27 in 1985, and we could be in that range on Wednesday.