— People in much of the United States are dealing with cold weather not seen in 20 years.
The National Weather Service is calling the polar air mass sweeping across the country "dangerously cold," and has posted wind chill warnings for Monday that stretch from North Dakota to New York in the north and as far as Alabama in the deep south.
The mayor of Indianapolis in the central part of the country, Greg Ballard, said the extreme temperatures are life-threatening.
"This weather combination that we are seeing right now with all of the snow and the cold is unlike anything that we've seen in decades in this area and I can't emphasize that enough. The cold really scares me and as such that we will have temperatures that are potentially deadly or certainly look like life-altering temperatures," Ballard said.
Veronica LaPage of Chicago told VOA's Kane Farabaugh she saw few commuters heading to work Monday morning in Chicago.
"I made sure to wear at least four layers and wear a coat I only wear once every three years today. Chicago transit had lots of delays, but I was lucky to hop a train as soon as I was on the platform. But there were maybe 10-percent of the usual morning commuters on board my trip. I'm glad I wore all the layers, or this morning could have been brutal," she said.
Carl Erickson, a forecaster with AccuWeather, told VOA that wind chills in major East Coast cities could reach 20-to-30 degrees (Celsius) below zero, while in places like Montana and North Dakota those figures could hit minus 50 degrees.
“The good news is, although this is a very intense cold air mass system that we haven’t seen in decades, it will not be long-lived. Even as we go into Wednesday the winds will begin to lessen, the cold air eases, and although no big warm-ups it will definitely feel a little bit better Wednesday compared to the next couple of days. Going into Thursday and Friday, looks like temperatures actually rebounding to near average levels, in the big cities by Thursday and Friday,” Erickson said.
A pedestrian covers up against single digit temperatures in New York, Jan. 7, 2014.
Traffic backs up along I-75 due to icy conditions on pavement in Detroit, Michigan, Jan. 7, 2014.
Ice in the Mississippi River flows past the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, Jan. 7, 2014.
Isabella and Zadok Graff check on their family's beef cattle during freezing temperatures in Middletown, Illinois, Jan. 7, 2014.
A man is silhouetted against the arctic sea smoke rising off Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois, Jan. 6, 2014.
Matt Frame brushes off a Buick at Ray Laethem Buick-GMC in Detroit, Michigan, Jan. 6, 2014.
Commuters gather under warming lamps on one of Chicago's famous "El" lines as they experience wind chills expected to reach far below zero, Jan. 6, 2014.
Two pedestrians go down a street in Chicago's South Loop with temperatures well below zero, Jan. 6, 2014.
Time and temperature signs in Lawrence, Kansas, Jan. 6, 2014.
Daryl Daugherty clears the sidewalk in front of his home in Carmel, Indiana, Jan. 6, 2014.
The cold and fresh snow measuring more than 30 centimeters in some places in the Midwest have created dangerous travel conditions, forcing schools to close and airlines to cancel thousands of flights.
Meg Skelly, of the Ottawa, Illinois Chamber of Commerce told VOA her community is virtually shut down with banks government buildings and other offices closed out of safety for their employees.
Karen Brodbeck, the Director of Marketing and Community Relations for OSF at Saint Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa says her hospital is only dealing with emergencies.
"As for my hospital, all non essential services seem to be on hold, volunteer programs and initiatives have been temporarily suspended."
Forecasters say the widespread chill is the result of a relatively infrequent alignment of weather conditions, allowing a so-called polar vortex to travel unusually far to the south from its normal place in northern Canada.
A polar vortex is a counterclockwise rotating pool of cold, dense air. It is expected to knock temperatures in half the nation down to minus 17 degrees by Wednesday.
VOA's Kane Farabaugh contributed to this report