Polar vortex brings coldest air in a generation

8:31 a.m. ET, January 31, 2019

75% of the continental US is below freezing this morning

Frank Lettiere and Jelena Miletic hold hands as they view Lake Michigan's frozen shoreline in Chicago.
Frank Lettiere and Jelena Miletic hold hands as they view Lake Michigan's frozen shoreline in Chicago. JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images

Extreme cold continues to grip much of the eastern half of the country and has become more widespread with dangerous cold and wind chills extend from the Upper Midwest to Maine.

Here's where things stand this morning:

  • More than 75% of the continental US — or about 216 million people — are seeing below freezing temperatures this morning.
  • More than 20%, or 84 million people, are seeing below zero.
  • Wind chill warnings or advisories continue for nearly 140 million people, covering most of the Midwest and Northeast, and extending as far south as the Carolinas.
  • Wind chills are not as extreme as yesterday, but still in the -40 to -50 range in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and -30 to -40 in Northern Illinois, including Chicago.
8:02 a.m. ET, January 31, 2019

You may hear the term "frost quakes" today. Here's what you need to know.

A man walks along the lakefront as temperatures hovered around -20 degrees on Wednesday
A man walks along the lakefront as temperatures hovered around -20 degrees on Wednesday Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The winter weather isn't done with Chicago; now there is talk of frost quakes.

Here's what that means: A frost quake, or cryoseism, occurs when the water underground freezes and expands causing the soil and rock to crack.

There's often a booming or banging sound, which usually begins when there is a sudden drop in temperature, WGN reported, much like Chicago's recent dip to a record-breaking low of 27 below.

CNN affiliate WGN reported Wednesday that viewers in the Chicago area were awakened by a series of booms.

"I thought I was crazy! I was up all night because I kept hearing it," viewer Chastity Clark Baker said on Facebook, the news station reported. "I was scared and thought it was the furnace. I kept walking through the house. I had everyone's jackets on the table in case we had to run out of here."
8:01 p.m. ET, January 30, 2019

Arctic-cold temperatures blasted the Midwest today. Here's what it looked like.

A deep freeze swept over the Midwest and parts of the Northeast today.

The frigid cold temperatures forced road, school and state office closures. Mail and train services were also suspended in some states.

In Chicago, officials set railroad tracks on fire because the extreme cold could cause defects.

This is what it looked across the rest of the Midwest today:

Illinois

Ice covers the Chicago River on Wednesday in Chicago.
Ice covers the Chicago River on Wednesday in Chicago. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Indiana

A pedestrian walks along the Canal Walk downtown in Indianapolis on Wednesday as temperatures remained below zero in Central Indiana.
A pedestrian walks along the Canal Walk downtown in Indianapolis on Wednesday as temperatures remained below zero in Central Indiana. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Iowa

A car passes an elementary school closed due to cold weather on Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa.
A car passes an elementary school closed due to cold weather on Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Nebraska

Pedestrians bundle up in sub-freezing temperatures on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Wednesday.
Pedestrians bundle up in sub-freezing temperatures on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

New York

A homeless man sits in the falling snow in the Financial District on Jan. 30, 2019 in New York City.
A homeless man sits in the falling snow in the Financial District on Jan. 30, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Wisconsin

Geese huddle in the water as the sun rises at the harbor in Port Washington on Jan. 30, 2019.
Geese huddle in the water as the sun rises at the harbor in Port Washington on Jan. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

7:45 p.m. ET, January 30, 2019

At least 7 injured after snow squall causes multi-car pileup

WFMZ
WFMZ

Seven people were injured after a multi-car pileup occurred during a sudden snow squall in Pennsylvania, Wyomissing Police Chief Jeffrey Biehl told CNN. 

At least 26 cars were involved in the crash that occurred shortly after 1 p.m. ET on Route 222 in Wyomissing. The injured victims were taken to Reading Hospital. Their conditions were not immediately known.

The snow squall caused whiteout conditions on the road, the chief said.

Wyomissing resident Kim Hart, who drove by the crash, said road visibility quickly diminished when the squall moved through the area.

"It made my stomach hurt. I wasn’t scared just saddened and praying everyone makes it home," Hart told CNN. "The roads seemed okay but the snow started and the visibility went to impossible quickly."
12:29 p.m. ET, January 31, 2019

Congratulations, Ponsford, Minnesota! You just recorded the lowest windchill at minus 66 degrees so far.

The lowest windchill measured in the last 48 hours is -66 degrees in Ponsford, Minnesota, the National Weather Service said. 

The lowest air temperature measured in that same time period is -48 degrees in Morris Camp, Minnesota.  

7:20 p.m. ET, January 30, 2019

Firefighters struggle to battle house fire in Indiana in freezing temperatures

 Cynthia Garza Rangel
 Cynthia Garza Rangel

Firefighters battling a house fire in Hammond, Indiana, in Wednesday's -22 degree weather ran in to a major problem: the hose water kept turning into ice.

"Everything got slowed down and even a fire hydrant was frozen," Hammond Fire Chief Jeff Smith told CNN. "I'm currently thawing out and so is my crew.” 

The frozen water and cold temperatures created a number of issues for the firefighters.

"A couple guys slipped and fell on the ice, including me. They looked like snowmen, ice was falling and cracking of them," Smith said. "It was a difficult situation. Cold weather takes a little bit extra time."

The fire was reported 7:15 a.m. ET, but it took firefighters several hours to finally extinguish the flames. An older woman who lived in the home remained missing as of Wednesday afternoon, Smith said. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but firefighters think it started in the basement.

That part of the house, he said, was "filled with a couple feet of water that's turned into ice."

7:05 p.m. ET, January 30, 2019

Last 4 runners in Minnesota finish ultramarathon in subzero temperatures

Scott Rokis/Arrowhead 135
Scott Rokis/Arrowhead 135

All the runners in the Arrowhead 135 ultramarathon have completed the race, according to the race’s Facebook page.

While 146 runners started, only 52 completed the course.

“It has warmed up from -32 early this AM to a balmy -16,” race organizers said on Facebook within an hour of the racers finishing.

Scott Rokis/Arrowhead 135
Scott Rokis/Arrowhead 135