Chicago, IL, United States (4E) – People were warned against leaving home while thousands of flights were grounded on Monday as temperatures fell below zero in several states, some to record lows, due to the Arctic cyclone dubbed Polar vortex bearing down on the U.S.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on residents to stay indoors and off the roads with the city thermometer going -16F overnight and -14F at noon Monday. The warning serves well as an elderly man was found dead in his driveway in Christian County Monday morning. The sheriff’s office said the victim tried to walk home after his car broke down one mile away but did not reach safety in time.
In Tuscola, the home-bound Southern Illinois University men’s basketball team players were forced to sleep on the floor of a nearby church after their bus would not restart along Interstate 57.
Metra cancelled at least 27 trains around 3:15 p.m. and others were delayed Monday forcing commuters to find another way to get home after getting exposed to wind chills for an hour while waiting for the service to arrive.
Extreme cold and moisture froze and iced electronic switches and signals at the key rail crossing, according to Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile. Officials struggled to keep switches from jamming as the wind and extreme cold also caused powdery snow to build up on electronic and gas-fired switch heaters.
Amtrak passengers waited for nine hours past Kalamazoo, Michigan after a frozen engine stalled their train traveling from Detroit to Chicago. Another train tug it the rest of the way home.
Almost 1,600 flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport were cancelled as of 4 p.m. ET on Monday. About 2,200 other flights in other airports across the country were also grounded.
Twenty-six states were under warnings or watches for severe wind chill on Monday. Tulsa set a record -2F while Austin, Texas matched the record 22F.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton ordered schools across the state closed with temperatures reaching -40F once more after 17 years. At -20F, the temperature in Minneapolis at 9 a.m., anyone stuck outside for any length of time will be at serious risk for injury or death,” the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities warned, according to USA Today.
AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines warned of brutal wind chills in the minus 50s and minus 60s continuing overnight in the upper Midwest. At -50F, skin can freeze in less than five minutes, a meteorologist warned.
In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence declared a state of disaster emergency for 29 counties. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard declared driving illegal except in emergencies or to get to shelter. The state legislature postponed the opening day of its 2014 session while the state appellate courts, including the Indiana Supreme Court, were closed.
In Lexington, Kentucky, wind chills were at -20F Monday. One was killed in a two-car crash on Interstate 75 in Laurel County.
The Midwest expects to get relief from the biting cold by Wednesday, according to forecasters.