MINNEAPOLIS -- The coldest, most dangerous blast of polar air in decades gripped the Midwest and pushed toward the East and South on Monday, closing schools and day care centers, grounding flights and forcing people to pull their hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite.
Many across the nation's midsection went into virtual hibernation, while others dared to venture out in temperatures that plunged well below zero.
"I'm going to try to make it two blocks without turning into crying man," said Brooks Grace, who was bundling up to do some banking and shopping in downtown Minneapolis, where temperature reached 23 below, with wind chills of minus 48. "It's not cold -- it's painful."
The mercury also dropped into negative territory in Milwaukee, St. Louis and Chicago, which set a record for the date at minus 16. Wind chills across the region were 40 below and colder. Records also fell in Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana.
Forecasters said some 187 million people in all could feel the effects of the "polar vortex"-- an elliptical-shaped pattern of frigid winds blowing west to east and centered on the North Pole -- by the time it spread across the country Monday night and today.
Record lows were possible in the East and South, with highs in the single digits expected today in Georgia and Alabama. Subzero wind chills were forecast up and down the coast, including minus 10 in Atlanta and minus 12 in Baltimore.
From the Dakotas to Maryland, schools and day care centers shut down.
For a big swath of the Midwest, the subzero cold moved in behind another winter wallop: more than a foot of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous.
Several deaths were blamed on the snow, ice and cold since Saturday, including the death of a 1-year-old boy who was in a car that went out of control and collided with a snowplow Monday in Missouri.
More than 3,700 flights were canceled by late Monday afternoon, 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.