The weather’s cold, but the jokes are hot

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A sign shows the current outdoor temperature in Glenview, Ill., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.

Streets in Chicago were almost empty, with few people walking outside in the painfully cold air as temperatures hovered around 18 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 28 Celsius). Crews in Detroit will need days to fix water mains that burst Wednesday. By this weekend, Chicago, which had near-record cold of minus 23 F (minus 30 C) on Wednesday and minus 21 F on Thursday, will bask in snow-melting highs in the mid-40s to low 50s Fahrenheit. And next week will begin with a high of 51 on Monday and an even balmier 56 the next day, according to AccuWeather.

Two-thirds of the continental United States will be a frozen ice box Tuesday, as the so-called polar vortex of frigid arctic air spins across the U.S. Midwest, clips the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley and pushes on into New England. The arctic conditions caused problems from Buffalo to Brooklyn, where about 200 firefighters battling an early morning blaze in a commercial building took turns getting warm on buses.

Authorities warned that the extreme temperatures were life-threatening, as Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin implemented emergency procedures.

All-time records are in jeopardy this week as the coldest air in a generation descends from the Arctic into the Lower 48.

As of noon Thursday, at O'Hare International Airport 1,467 flights were canceled, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

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Chicago's forecast low temperature Thursday morning is within the margin of error of its lowest on record, minus-27 set on January 20, 1985. Milwaukee had similar conditions. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, set a daily record low of minus 30 degrees (minus 34 Celsius).

Lawrence Gottlieb of the University of Chicago Medical Centre said the threat was significant "when temps fall below zero, especially when there is a strong wind". Trains and buses in Chicago operated with few passengers.

Postal services have been suspended in some areas of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin as well as parts of Kansas, Montana and Nebraska because it's simply too cold for postal workers to be out and about.

The city skyline is seen from the North Avenue Beach at Lake Michigan, as bitter cold phenomenon called the polar vortex has descended on much of the central and eastern United States, in Chicago. The split allowed the air to spill much farther south than usual. The frightful cold, expected to bottom out with record lows Thursday morning, was blamed for several deaths across the region, and fears for the most vulnerable populations soared as night fell.

The deaths included an elderly IL man who was found several hours after he fell trying to get into his home and a University of Iowa student found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn.

Jim Hayes, a National Weather Service meteorologist, warned that frostbite was possible within 10 minutes in the intense cold. A fire Wednesday morning disabled one of the utility's facilities that accounts for 64 percent of its natural gas supply.

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In Minneapolis, residents woke up Thursday to another day that started with temperatures in the negative double digits.

Aside from the safety risks and the physical discomfort, the system's icy grip also took a heavy toll on infrastructure, halting transportation and knocking out electricity and natural gas.

Frozen water mains broke in Detroit and parts of Canada.

Amtrak said it would cancel all trains in and out of Chicago on Wednesday. Several families who meant to leave for Pennsylvania stood in ticket lines at Chicago's Union Station only to be told all trains were cancelled until Friday.

Translation: Unless your travel is essential this week, stay home.

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