America's third city Chicago - where the morning temperature was -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 Celsius), which felt like -50 degrees (-46 Celsius) with wind chill - was colder than Alaska's state capital and even colder than parts of Antarctica. Chicago's forecast low temperature Thursday morning is within the margin of error of its lowest on record, minus-27 set on January 20, 1985. The overnight low in Boston was at minus 5F (minus 21C) and Islip, New York, on Long Island had a record low of minus 3F (-16C), according to the weather service.
"I would bet my next paycheck we are not beating the record this time", said NWS meteorologist Gino Izzi. Across the Midwest, the sudden warmth was sure to bring more broken roads and busted water mains.
Temperatures should bounce back into the single digits later Thursday and into the comparative balmy 20s by Friday.
Even Alabama and MS could see snow, the service added.
Yet another round of accumulating snow is on the way Thursday PM, with probable impacts to the Thursday evening commute.
Air masses drifting further south than usual are pushing wind-chill temperatures to dangerously low levels: Cold enough to cause frostbite in half an hour.
Many normal activities shut down and residents huddled inside as the National Weather Service forecast plunging temperatures from one of the coldest air masses in years. Chicago is supposed to enter positive temperature territory on Thursday.
It was negative 10 degrees on board, a warm up from Thursday morning's record-breaking negative 21 in Chicago.
One of those polar vortex pieces is responsible for the subzero temperatures across the Midwest this week.
Chicago's weather this weekend will likely seem tropical in comparison. With temperatures as low as these, frostbite can occur in a mere 5 minutes. More than 2,000 people die every year across the United States in residential fires, with faulty heaters a significant factor in these disasters.
For the second day in a row, the intense cold and windy conditions forced USA airlines to cancel more than 2,000 flights.
Schools were closed for Wednesday and Thursday across the Midwest, including Chicago, and police warned of the heightened risk of accidents on icy highways.
More than 1,500 flights into Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports were canceled and Amtrak train services did not run.
Nearly 3,000 flights have so far been cancelled including more than 1,550 in and out of Chicago.
"It's awful!" Pasquale Cappellano, a 68-year-old waiter, said as he smoked a cigarette while waiting outside for a bus on Chicago's North Side.
Signal problems at the Howard stop have been plaguing Yellow, Purple and Red Line trains since about 4:20 a.m., according to CTA alerts.
He said places in MI and IL that were experiencing record or near-record cold this week were expected to be around 10C by Monday, approximately a 40C turnaround. Several other locations in Minnesota and North Dakota plunged to risky lows, including Warren, Minnesota (minus-47); Lisbon, North Dakota (minus-46); and Park Rapids, Minnesota (minus-42). The nearby University of MI took the rare step of canceling classes through Thursday.
By Wednesday morning, about 19,000 customers were left without power as crews scrambled to restore service, said John Schoen, spokesperson for the city's largest electric utility ComEd company.