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Frigid Temperatures Are Wreaking Havoc Across The Midwest

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Negative 23, negative 29, negative 31 - somewhat unbelievably, those are the temperature readings today in parts of the Upper Midwest. Dangerous, bone-chilling, record-setting cold has closed schools and businesses, canceled thousands of flights, even suspended mail delivery in some states. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: It is ridiculously cold in Chicago today, and the wind is biting. It is bright and sunny, but that big, bright yellow and orange ball in the sky is doing nothing to warm the air. Forecasters summed it up well when they said the sunshine today would be, quote, "ineffectual."

JON DAVIS: We got down this morning at O'Hare to minus 23. That is the coldest reading in Chicago since January of 1985.

SCHAPER: Jon Davis is chief meteorologist of the risk management firm Riskpulse. He says about a month ago, there was a rare warming of the stratosphere disrupting the polar vortex which usually sits over the arctic.

DAVIS: The polar vortex split, and then many areas of the hemisphere got cold. First it was Europe, then it was China, then the third part of it is then over us right now and is the reason for the cold.

SCHAPER: As a result, 200 million people of the continental U.S. are experiencing freezing temperatures. That's 70 percent of the country, with 70 million people suffering in subzero conditions that will last at least through Thursday and some facing life-threatening windchills of up to 65 degrees below zero.

Social service, city and state agencies across the Midwest are reaching out to the homeless and other vulnerable residents to bring them into warming centers. Because of a significant strain on the natural gas system, Xcel Energy in Minnesota is urging residents to turn down their thermostats to a chilly 60 degrees. Good luck with that. And the dangerous cold is affecting shipping companies, too.

CHARLES MILLER: There's not many trucks out on the road today.

SCHAPER: Charles Miller is with the logistics company Evans Transportation Services outside of Milwaukee.

MILLER: Diesel has a gel point essentially where the wax in the diesel itself will start to congeal.

SCHAPER: That means eagerly anticipated shipments of Super Bowl party staples like beer and avocados for guacamole are delayed. But by game time, temperatures here are expected to soar, rising as much as 60 degrees over today's 20-below readings. David Schaper, NPR News Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF T-PAIN FEAT CHRIS BROWN SONG, "FREEZE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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