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Brutal Blast of Icy Cold Grinds US Cities to a Halt, Postal Service Closes, Officials Set Railroad Tracks on Fire

Cold Weather
Cold Weather

This week's arctic winter cold snap is tightening its grip on the upper plains and Midwest, with some areas facing the coldest temperatures in decades, making it feel like 50 below zero in Chicago.

The brutally cold weather is putting millions at risk with 85 percent of the county facing temperatures at or below freezing. 

Many schools and offices are closed and the deep freeze is even prompting the US Postal Service to take the rare step of suspending mail delivery to a wide swath of the region.

Normal activities are shutting down and residents are huddled inside as the National Weather Service forecasts plunging temperatures from one of the coldest air masses in years. 

The bitter cold is the result of a split in the polar vortex that allowed temperatures to plunge much further south in North America than normal.

Lakes and rivers are frozen solid while ice and snow are wreaking havoc on many roads across the country. 

Forecasters predict that Chicago will be colder than Antartica this week as temperatures reach 20 below zero as the wind chill makes it feel like minus 50.

It's so cold in the windy city that officials are setting commuter railroad tracks on fire to keep them from contracting.  

Amtrak has suspended all services in the city.

In North Dakota, temperatures plunged as low as minus 26 with wind chills as low as minus 62.  

Governors in several states declaring emergencies due to the dangerously low temperatures.

"It's hard to take a breath in, it's affecting my lungs a little bit," said Sandra Dixon, who had traveled from Texas to Minnesota.

Authorities across the country are warning drivers to be prepared.
"I would suggest maybe getting a blanket, an extra set of clothing, maybe an alternative battery source for your phone," said Sgt. David Moran of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Service.

In a desperate attempt to get the homeless off the streets, Chicago is turning buses into makeshift warming centers.

"We're bringing the warming shelters to them, so they can stay near all of their stuff and still warm up," said Cristina Villarreal, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Family and Support Services.

Meanwhile, emergency rooms are seeing an increase in cases of frostbite and bracing for more in the days to come. 

Officials urge residents to not only bundle up, but to consider not going out at all, until the weather warms up.

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