See the Chicago River Freeze and 'Smoke' Amid Frigid Winter Weather

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"This could possibly be history-making", said Ricky Castro, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Romeoville, Illinois.

Meteorologists have blamed a phenomenon called the polar vortex for the bitter cold that has descended on much of the central and eastern United States this week, forcing residents to huddle indoors, closing schools and businesses and cancelling flights.

Officials throughout the region were focused on protecting vulnerable people from the cold, including the homeless, seniors and those living in substandard housing. Five city buses were also deployed to serve as mobile warming centers for homeless people, while city police handed out hats, jackets and blankets.

A state of emergency has been declared in the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan and IL, as well as in the normally more clement southern states of Alabama and Mississippi. In Chicago, major attractions closed because of the bitter cold, including the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Art Institute and the Field Museum.

"You'll have to wait for the weekend, before you see any higher temperatures". These tubes are thin, and if there's any moisture in them when temperatures drop to extreme levels, they can freeze, causing blockages that prevent fuel from flowing.

Authorities and health experts warned that frostbite and hypothermia can could set in in minutes in the extreme cold.

Snow is expected to fall as far south as Alabama and Georgia.

"People don't want to be out there right now", said Brennan Ellis, 53, who is staying at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

At least four deaths were linked to the weather system, including a man struck by a snow plough in the Chicago area, a young couple whose SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern in, and a Milwaukee man found frozen to death in a garage. "Extreme and unsafe COLD!" Normally, this is a roughly circular current near the North Pole, an atmospheric river of sorts, that keeps cold air bottled over the Arctic. What I wasn't ready for was how deep Minnesota natives' reverence of the cold goes. "The combined effects of the cold & winds are at their peak today with wind chills of -45° to -60° continuing". "I feel sorry for anybody that has to stay outside".

Multiple warming shelters were opened Monday by agencies and nonprofit groups across the Midwest and Northeast to get the homeless population off the streets. Cities in the region have been forced to shut down as U.S. officials have urged the public to stay indoors.

Hundreds of public schools and several large universities from North Dakota to Pennsylvania canceled classes Tuesday or planned to do so Wednesday.

Native American tribes in the Upper Midwest were doing what they could to help members in need with heating supplies.

Down in Antarctica, where it's the middle of summer, the outer edge of the continent will be much warmer than Chicago and the entire Midwest.

Even the state record in IL is in jeopardy - minus-36 degrees set in Congerville on January 5, 1999.

It wasn't stopping one of America's most formidable endurance tests, however - the three-day Arrowhead 135 was going on as scheduled in northeastern Minnesota. Even the South Pole in Antarctica was warmer, with an expected low of minus 24 F (minus 31 C) with wind chill.

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