CHICAGO – Snow and ice blanketed large parts of the Midwest of the United States on Wednesday, as Chicago recorded the lowest temperatures for over 34 years, authorities said.
Lows of -23 degrees Fahrenheit (-30.5 Celsius) were registered at O’Hare airport in Chicago, which also recorded wind chills of -52 degrees Fahrenheit, while the city of Rockford in Illinois saw temperatures plummet to -25 degrees Fahrenheit, the National Weather Service said.
Wednesday saw the lowest temperatures since the all-time record for Chicago of -27 Fahrenheit on Jan. 1985.
“This is an historic cold, but Chicagoans are historically strong and united in the face of adversity,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a press conference. “Our number one priority is the safety and security of our residents. We have been canvassing homeless residents around the clock, to connect them with resources and warm places to stay.”
More than 200 warming centers across the city have been opened to provide homeless people with shelter from the biting cold, Emanuel added.
The subzero temperatures triggered by the polar vortex have caused thousands of flights to be cancelled. More than 1,700 flights were cut on Wednesday, according to the city’s Aviation Department, with more cancellations scheduled for Thursday.
The polar vortex is a “large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding the Earth’s North and South poles,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which can become unstable during winter in the Northern Hemisphere. That instability, coupled with a weak jet stream, has lead to an expansion of the vortex, sending frigid Arctic air south over the continental US.
The weather system has covered Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, in ice and snow, with Lake Michigan and the Chicago River freezing over.
All public schools and colleges were closed Wednesday and Thursday.
“Chicago experienced its second coldest day in history, however, we’re not out of the woods yet. The frigid temperatures will continue” on Thursday, Emanuel said.
The NWS has also issued blizzard advisories for areas near the Great Lakes, as well as predicting wind chills of -40 Fahrenheit into Thursday morning, “with actual temperatures in the -20s to -30s.”
US media have attributed at least eight deaths across the region to the cold weather.