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US braces for coldest day of the 21st century
Wednesday January 8, 2014 11:10 PM, IINA

The coldest weather conditions for two decades show little sign of relenting in parts of America, as forecasters predict freezing temperatures could make Tuesday the coldest on record in the 21st century.

A record-breaking cold snap brought temperatures lower than on the surface of Mars. The most dangerous cold -- cold that can cause frostbite in a minute and death in a matter of hours -- hit the Midwest, dragged down as the 'polar vortex' brought frigid air from the Arctic.

Schools, businesses and government offices were closed. Water mains and household pipes froze. Airplanes were grounded, trains were halted and roads and sidewalks became ice rinks.

It sounds like a plot device from a bad disaster movie, but for vast swathes of North America, the weather phenomenon known as a "polar vortex" has become all too real, bringing misery to millions across the US and Canada, along with the lowest temperatures seen in almost twenty years.

More than 3,000 flights had been cancelled across the region by 10am yesterday morning. A further 3,700 had already been cancelled during the weekend. Schools were closed in major cities such as Chicago and St Louis, and residents advised to remain indoors.

Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland told Bloomberg today could beat 16 January, 2009, the coldest day of the century.

The Governor of Minnesota closed all the schools in his state, while the mayor of Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, banned driving except in emergencies – the first time the city has issued such a strict travel warning since 1978.

Ballard said: "This extreme cold poses a serious health and safety risk and for that reason the city is asking people to proactively prepare."

In many areas, particularly in the Midwest and Northern Plains, the cold was considered life-threatening. Hypothermia is a major risk at temperatures of below -25C, while frostbite can take hold in less than 10 minutes at -37C. At ‑45C, uncovered skin could freeze within five minutes.

The wind-chill in Comertown, Montana, close to the border with Canada, is expected make temperatures feel as low as -52C. Chicago's National Weather Service office reported that Monday's low of -26C at O'Hare International Airport beat a record set in 1884 and equaled in 1988.

In Fargo, the largest city in North Dakota, temperatures sank below ‑35C. Motorists were advised in that state and its neighbor South Dakota to carry survival kits and a charged mobile phone in case they found themselves stranded in the perilous weather.

At least 13 people are thought to have died as a result of the extreme conditions already, including several road accidents, a man who succumbed to hypothermia in Wisconsin, and a worker crushed by a massive pile of road salt at a storage facility in Philadelphia.

An elderly Alzheimer's sufferer from rural New York state wandered out into the snow; she was later found dead from the cold, around 100 yards from her home.

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