CHICAGO — Millions of Americans grappling with this week’s deep freeze would be better off warming up in parts of Antarctica.
A mammoth blast of frigid air sweeping through the Midwest is headed toward the East, on track to shatter dozens of records along the way.
“The coldest air in a generation is sinking south, with below-zero temperatures already in the Upper Midwest,” CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said Tuesday. “And the worst yet to come.”
The deadly weather has already claimed at least two lives and snarled travel in even the hardiest cities. Over 1,600 flights are canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday, including more than 760 in and out of Chicago airports, according to FlightAware.com.
Chicago could reach a new record low temperature of 27 below zero by Thursday morning. The city’s daytime high on Wednesday might only reach 15 below zero.
Compare that to the relative warmth of Priestley Glacier, Antarctica, which will have a Wednesday high temperature of 6 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 7 below zero.
While Hennen said Chicago will be “the epicenter of the extreme cold,” its misery will have plenty of company.
Temperatures will plunge to 20-40 degrees below zero between Tuesday and Thursday in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes, Hennen said.
And more than 83 million Americans — about 25% of the US population — will suffer sub-zero temperatures sometime between Wednesday and Monday.
Beware of life-threatening wind chills
The only numbers more shocking than the temperatures are the wind chills.
Wind chills will plummet to 30-60 degrees below zero this week in parts of in the northern Plains and Great Lakes region, Hennen said.
Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker declared a state of emergency, saying even a brief time outside with exposed skin can be life-threatening.
“There is a real risk of hypothermia and frostbite,” Pritzker said Tuesday. “Even five minutes of exposure can have very severe health consequences.”
The Windy City might stay below zero degrees from Tuesday all the way until midday Friday, Hennen said.
At least 2 deaths are linked to weather
Authorities are urging people to bundle up, stay inside and check up on the elderly and vulnerable.
But already, at least two deaths have been attributed to the extreme cold.
On Sunday, a man in Rochester, Minnesota, was found dead outside the home where he was staying with a relative.
Ali Alfred Gombo, 22, didn’t have keys to the home and was unable to enter after being dropped off outside early Sunday morning, CNN affiliate KIMT reported. The single-digit temperatures that dipped below zero may have played a role in his death, Rochester police said.
And in Illinois, a man was killed Monday “after a roadway crash involving a village plow truck and a pedestrian,” Libertyville police said.
The plow truck driver has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation, police said.
States accustomed to snow make emergency declarations
You know it’s bad when northern states like Michigan and Wisconsin declare emergencies.
“Such widespread, extreme conditions have not occurred in Michigan for many years, and it is imperative that we are proactive with record-low temperatures being predicted by the National Weather Service,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers also declared a state of emergency, as some school districts — including Milwaukee Public Schools — are closed Tuesday.
“I want to make sure all state assets are available, including Wisconsin National Guard if needed, to help communities across the state and keep people warm and safe,” Evers tweeted.
What about the Super Bowl?
In Atlanta, where the New England Patriots are set to face the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl on Sunday, temperatures are plunging Tuesday.
Georgia state offices are closed, and Atlanta will have emergency warming centers running from Tuesday until Thursday morning.
But despite earlier predictions of up to 2 inches of snow, the latest forecasts show Atlanta won’t get any accumulation.
Temperatures are expected to rebound before Sunday’s kickoff at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, melting anything that sticks to the roads in time for the big game.