Polar vortex brings coldest air in a generation

By Meg Wagner, Brian Ries, Amanda Wills and Veronica Rocha, CNN
8:01 a.m. ET, February 1, 2019
8:31 a.m. ET, January 31, 2019

75% of the continental US is below freezing this morning

From CNN's Dave Hennen

Frank Lettiere and Jelena Miletic hold hands as they view Lake Michigan's frozen shoreline in Chicago.

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.

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe, Faith Karimi and Steve Almasy

A man walks along the lakefront as temperatures hovered around -20 degrees on Wednesday

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.

Indiana

A pedestrian walks along the Canal Walk downtown in Indianapolis on Wednesday as temperatures remained below zero in Central Indiana.

Iowa

A car passes an elementary school closed due to cold weather on Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa.

Nebraska

Pedestrians bundle up in sub-freezing temperatures on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Wednesday.

New York

A homeless man sits in the falling snow in the Financial District on Jan. 30, 2019 in New York City.

Wisconsin

Geese huddle in the water as the sun rises at the harbor in Port Washington on Jan. 30, 2019.

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

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

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

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.

From CNN's Dave Alsup

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

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

From CNN's Paul Murphy

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.

6:35 p.m. ET, January 30, 2019

At least 9 deaths linked to cold temperatures and extreme weather

From CNN's Marlena Baldacci

At least nine deaths have been linked to the extreme weather and cold temperatures.

There have been at least three weather-related deaths following crashes in Iowa since Sunday, Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Nathan Ludwig told CNN. An additional death was reported at the University of Iowa on Wednesday morning.

Here's what we know so far:

  • A 9-year-old boy from Nebraska was killed Sunday in a crash in Iowa when his family's vehicle slid off Interstate 80 and into a ditch in Cass County. At the time of the accident, there was freezing rain and icy conditions on the roadways.
  • A 31-year-old man was killed Monday on Interstate 80 in Iowa when the car he was riding in crashed into a telephone pole in Polk County. According to the Iowa State Patrol report, the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed. 
  • A 50-year-old woman was killed Monday when a semi-trailer rear-ended a car she was riding in on Interstate 80 in Iowa. According to Iowa State Patrol, the roads were icy at the time.
  • A University of Iowa student died Wednesday after he was found unresponsive on campus. The student was taken to a hospital, where he later died. His death is believed to be weather-related, according to the University of Iowa.

6:04 p.m. ET, January 30, 2019

US Coast Guard rescues 7 people stranded in ice shanty in Wisconsin

The US Coast Guard rescued seven people Tuesday after they became stranded in an ice shanty near Sturgeon Bay in 4 below zero weather.

The group had become stranded on the ice due to the bitter cold and problems with their utility vehicle, so they propped up an ice shanty, according to the Coast Guard. The weather at the time was 4 below zero with -30-degree wind chills.

Coast Guard and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources crews loaded the group on boats and took them to shore. They suffered no apparent injuries, the Coast Guard said in a statement.