Minneapolis, Jan 7- The coldest, most dangerous blast of polar air in decades gripped the U.S. Midwest and pushed toward the East and South and eastern Canada on Monday, closing schools, grounding flights and forcing people to pull their hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite.
The bitter weather comes after a heavy snowstorm hit much of the region last week. Officials closed schools in Chicago and other Midwest cities and warned residents to stay indoors.
Nearly 3,200 flights – one out of every 10 domestic departures – were canceled Monday morning, following a weekend of travel disruption across the U.S. Airline officials said de-icing fluid was freezing, fuel was pumping sluggishly, and ramp workers were having difficulty loading and unloading luggage.
“It’s just a dangerous cold,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye.
The forecast is extreme: 32 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-35 Celsius) in North Dakota, and 15 below zero (-26 Celsius) in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills – what it feels like when high winds are factored into the temperature – could drop into the minus 50s and 60s Fahrenheit (-45 to -51 Celsius).
In New York City, the temperature was expected to drop sharply from about 52 degrees (11.11 Celsius) to about 10 degrees (-12 Celsius) overnight as the arctic air moved in.
In Newfoundland, about 5,000 customers remained without power because of rolling blackouts in recent days, but Premier Kathy Dunderdale said it wasn’t a crisis and government services were still operating.
It hasn’t been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the region. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in within minutes.
“I have seen frostbite occur through clothing,” said Douglas Brunette, an emergency room doctor in Minneapolis. “It’s not enough just to be covered. You need clothes made for the elements. You need to repel the wind.”
The Indianapolis mayor upgraded the city’s travel emergency level to “red,” making it illegal for anyone to drive except for emergencies or seeking shelter. The last time the city issued such a travel warning was 1978.
Elnur Toktombetov, a Chicago taxi driver, said that an hour into his shift, his Toyota’s windows were still coated with ice on the inside
Many cities came to a virtual standstill. School was called off Monday for the state of Minnesota. Government offices and courts in several states closed.
Southern states were bracing for possible record cold temperatures, too. With two freezing nights ahead, Louisiana citrus farmers could lose any fruit they cannot pick in time.