US hunkers down for 'polar vortex'

A frozen wall on a beach in Chicago.
A frozen wall on a beach in Chicago.
Marcos Mercado is prepared for the cold and steam as he walks by a vent on the way to the doctor in North Philadelphia.
Marcos Mercado is prepared for the cold and steam as he walks by a vent on the way to the doctor in North Philadelphia.
A frozen Chicago is shown in this snap from pilot Hank Cain.
A frozen Chicago is shown in this snap from pilot Hank Cain.
A homeless man braves the cold in Washington DC.
A homeless man braves the cold in Washington DC.
A person walks past a snow covered bus shelter in downtown Chicago.
A person walks past a snow covered bus shelter in downtown Chicago.
Ice forms on the shore of the East River in New York.
Ice forms on the shore of the East River in New York.
A person struggles to walk in the strong wind gusts, in Burton, Michigan.
A person struggles to walk in the strong wind gusts, in Burton, Michigan.
Satellite imagery of the polar vortex covering the United States.
Satellite imagery of the polar vortex covering the United States.
Teresa Wooldridge has a hard time finding the path to clear snow in front of Brands Park on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
Teresa Wooldridge has a hard time finding the path to clear snow in front of Brands Park on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
Pedestrians walk across 7th Street in St. Paul, Minneapolis.
Pedestrians walk across 7th Street in St. Paul, Minneapolis.
James Diers attempts to jump start his car in Minneapolis.
James Diers attempts to jump start his car in Minneapolis.
The cold makes it inside an Amtrak train.
The cold makes it inside an Amtrak train.
A frozen berry is found in Toronto.
A frozen berry is found in Toronto.
A man keeps his face covered as he walks down the street during bitter cold temperatures in Detroit.
A man keeps his face covered as he walks down the street during bitter cold temperatures in Detroit.
Ice forms on the shore of the East River in New York.
Ice forms on the shore of the East River in New York.
Water mist blows over the East River in New York as a result of low temperatures.
Water mist blows over the East River in New York as a result of low temperatures.
A woman is layered up to protect against the cold in Washington DC.
A woman is layered up to protect against the cold in Washington DC.
A woman walks through a gust of blowing snow in frigid temperatures in Chicago.
A woman walks through a gust of blowing snow in frigid temperatures in Chicago.
A Detroit resident clears snow from around her car.
A Detroit resident clears snow from around her car.
People walk into the wind outside the Brown County Courthouse in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where temperatures dipped to -11 to -22 celcius.
People walk into the wind outside the Brown County Courthouse in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where temperatures dipped to -11 to -22 celcius.
The Chicago River starting to freeze over and steaming in the cold.
The Chicago River starting to freeze over and steaming in the cold.
Ice crystals on Ian Sutton's hotel room window.
Ice crystals on Ian Sutton's hotel room window.
There are lots of warnings about ice falling off buildings in Chicago, Ian Sutton says.
There are lots of warnings about ice falling off buildings in Chicago, Ian Sutton says.
Michelle Scott is holidaying in the US and sent these snaps of the snow blanketing Washington DC.
Michelle Scott is holidaying in the US and sent these snaps of the snow blanketing Washington DC.
Kiwi Craig McNaughton sent this photo of his daughter Madeleine at their house in Chicago. "It's hard to tell but the snow she is on is actually about 18 inches (45cm) deep," he said.
Kiwi Craig McNaughton sent this photo of his daughter Madeleine at their house in Chicago. "It's hard to tell but the snow she is on is actually about 18 inches (45cm) deep," he said.
Michelle Scott is holidaying in the US and sent these snaps of the snow blanketing Washington DC.
Michelle Scott is holidaying in the US and sent these snaps of the snow blanketing Washington DC.
Jamie Aitken, a Kiwi living in Carmel, Indiana, took these photos around his apartment complex. He estimates there's been about 22cm of snow there.
Jamie Aitken, a Kiwi living in Carmel, Indiana, took these photos around his apartment complex. He estimates there's been about 22cm of snow there.
Jamie Aitken, a Kiwi living north of Indianapolis, reports that the wind has just started to whip up there.
Jamie Aitken, a Kiwi living north of Indianapolis, reports that the wind has just started to whip up there.
A man falls while slipping on ice during freezing rain on Roosevelt Island, a borough of Manhattan in New York.
A man falls while slipping on ice during freezing rain on Roosevelt Island, a borough of Manhattan in New York.
A man photographs the Korean War Veterans Memorial after a heavy snow storm in Washington DC on January 3, 2014.
A man photographs the Korean War Veterans Memorial after a heavy snow storm in Washington DC on January 3, 2014.
A man jogs through the snow in Riverside Park in upper Manhattan in New York City.
A man jogs through the snow in Riverside Park in upper Manhattan in New York City.
Making snowmen in Central Park in New York.
Making snowmen in Central Park in New York.
Images from Nasa's Aqua satellite shows the massive winter storm moving up the eastern seaboard.
Images from Nasa's Aqua satellite shows the massive winter storm moving up the eastern seaboard.
Waves crash into houses in Scituate, Massachusetts.
Waves crash into houses in Scituate, Massachusetts.
Snowshoes are the only way to travel in Scituate.
Snowshoes are the only way to travel in Scituate.
Crews clear snow in Fenway Park, home of baseball's Boston Red Sox, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Crews clear snow in Fenway Park, home of baseball's Boston Red Sox, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Getting ready to shovel snow in Detroit, Michigan.
Getting ready to shovel snow in Detroit, Michigan.
A man rides a sled on Cedar Hill in Central Park in New York.
A man rides a sled on Cedar Hill in Central Park in New York.

The hardy US city of Minneapolis, more or less unfazed by today's sub-zero temperatures, is taking no chances with the kind of weather forecast for tomrrow, when the low is predicted to be minus 24 degrees Celsius and the wind chill could drop to -45C.


Are you affected by the Arctic blast in the US? Send your photos and videos to newstips@stuff.co.nz


Goveror Mark Dayton has ordered schools closed statewide, one big employer, 3M, has told employees to stay home, and Minneapolis has shut down its parks to keep people indoors.

"This is the first time we have used the 'particularly dangerous situation' (PDS) wording with a Wind Chill Warning," the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities tweeted. Wind chills farther north could approach -54C, forecasters said, warning that exposed flesh would freeze in minutes.

With a "polar vortex" bringing some of the coldest weather in years across the nation's midsection and into the East and South, delays and closings were already set for the start of the workweek. For much of the Midwest, the deep freeze and efforts to prepare for it have begun.

Temperatures were predicted to drop to -26C at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport by dawn on Monday local time, prompting major universities and hundreds of private schools, businesses and day-care centers to announce they would shut down.

But the Chicago Public Schools system said it would open and told parents in a recorded hotline message that building engineers would "fire up the furnaces on Sunday to ensure a safe, warm learning environment."

At O'Hare Airport, 1,200 flights - about half the total traffic - were cancelled today, according to the flight tracker FlightAware. Airports in St Louis and Indianapolis also saw about half their scheduled departures and landings cancelled, the same site showed.

In New York, a plane from Toronto landed at Kennedy International Airport early Sunday and slid into snow as it turned from a runway onto a taxiway. No one was injured and the airport temporarily suspended operations because of icy runways.

North of Indianapolis, Jamie Aitken, a Kiwi from Ashburton now living in Carmel, Indiana, said in an email that the city had received about 22 cm of snow so far.

"Tonight we have a low of -26 Celsius and then tomorrow the wind chill will be around -37 Celsius. Snow-wise I still think the big snow storm of 2006 in Canterbury was worse, but the cold tomorrow will be horrific and I'm not particularly looking forward to the frostbite risk."

Minnesota's preparations qualified as unusual, although not unprecedented, in a state whose residents famously take winter's cold and snow in stride. The last time a governor ordered the schools closed across the state was 1997.

"I've lived here for six years, and I've never heard of the cold closing anything," said Kim Glynn, a physician who was at the Mall of America in Bloomington with her husband and two children.

But today was brilliantly crisp and sunny, perfect for hockey on the frozen Lake of the Isles in the city's Kenwood section, where Nelson Fox, Kyle Granberger and Tony Porter were skating in the early afternoon, when temperatures hovered at about -21C.

"It's about the only thing to do in Minnesota in the wintertime," said Fox, 24, who runs a Web development company with Granberger. A warming trailer at the edge of the lake had been closed, perhaps to discourage the kind of activity the three friends were undertaking.

On a trail around the lake, at least two people dressed in heavy clothing - including ski masks - were jogging, and a lone bicyclist could be seen heading slowly into the distance. A couple of dog walkers trudged across snow.

"You've got to embrace where you live. You can't run away from it," said Nate Peterson, a social studies teacher at Delano Middle School. "Otherwise, you might as well move to Florida."

Peterson, his wife, Jen, and their 2-year-old, Leighton, weren't exactly embracing the cold, but they hadn't run away, either. They had ventured to the Mall of America, one of the largest shopping centers in the US, which was filling rapidly  as the prospect of a day at home tomorrow loomed.

"Normally on the weekend, we go sledding, play in the snow," Peterson said in the shadow of the mall's indoor roller coaster.

On Saturday, the family had gone to the zoo, but that will be closed now as well, because part of it is outdoors. Tomorrow was looking like a day of indoor knee hockey and arts and crafts.

"People are gutsy. People try to show how tough they are," Peterson said. "When it's this . . . cold, to us it's not worth it."

"We'll stay inside. It'll be a long day," agreed Jennifer Calnon of Rosemont, who will care for two children while her husband works a 13-hour shift as a pharmacist. "We'll build some forts and finger paint."

And there will be no hockey Monday for Fox, although not because of the cold.

"I'm flying to Vegas," he said. "Family vacation." From there, he said, he would be heading to Tahiti.

-Washington Post