What is a polar vortex? And is it linked to climate change?

Polar vortex `just sort of evaporates' and U.S. Midwest warms up

The bitter cold is being caused by a displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current was disrupted.

In Chicago, known as the "Windy City" for winds whipping off Lake Michigan, temperatures fell to minus 19 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 28 degrees Celsius) early Wednesday, breaking the previous record low for the day set in 1966.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, officials warned that anyone venturing into the cold through Thursday morning could suffer frostbite in as little as 5 minutes.

The Midwest's temperatures are forecast to be colder than the base camp of Mt. Everest, which according to CBS Chicago will be around 30 degrees (although temperatures at higher elevations could be much colder).

At least 21 people were killed as a Polar Vortex continued to freeze the US Midwest, dipping temperatures to record lows in the region, the media reported.

"The cold air isn't pushing off anywhere, it's just sort of evaporating", said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

It pushed eastward and states including Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania experienced bitterly cold temperatures.

"It's going to be at least a 60-degree swing for Chicago", David Hamrick, a National Weather Service forecaster, told Reuters news agency.

Officials said a MI man who froze to death in his neighbourhood was "inadequately dressed for the weather".

Ice and water flows over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls Ontario Canada
Ice and water flows over the brink of the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls Ontario Canada

The deaths recorded in the U.S. included an elderly IL resident who was found several hours after he fell while trying to get home and a University of Iowa student found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn.

Most of Canada was under some sort of weather warning - from extreme cold in the Prairies, Quebec and Ontario to heavy snows in Alberta and Nova Scotia.

So far, nine people have died in storm related incidents.

More than 2,000 flights were canceled across the United States, most of which were heading into or out of the frozen Midwest, according to FlightAware.

From water freezing mid-air to ice on toilet seats, see viral posts on the polar vortex.

Even parts of the South, such as the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, and upper Georgia, were in the single digits.

In Detroit, General Motors Co suspended operations at 11 MI plants after a utility made an emergency appeal to conserve natural gas.

It has been more than 20 years since a similar Arctic blast covered a swath of the Midwest and Northeast, according to the weather service.

More than 2,500 flights were canceled and more than 3,500 were delayed on the morning of January 31, majority out of Chicago's O'Hare International and Midway International airports, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.com.

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