Dangerously Cold Polar Air Grips Midwest, Makes Way for East, South

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A dangerously cold blast of polar air is gripping the Midwest and pushing toward the East and South this evening.

Many people across the nation's midsection have gone into virtual hibernation, while those venturing out have had to pull hoods and scarves tight to protect exposed skin from nearly instant frostbite. In downtown Minneapolis temperatures reached 23 below, with wind chills of minus 48. One man out doing errands in the city says it's not cold, but "painful."

Forecasters said some 187 million people could feel the effects of the "polar vortex" by the time it spreads across the country tonight and tomorrow.

Chicago set a record low for today's date at minus 16, while wind chills across the Midwest were 40 below and colder. Records also fell in Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana, while forecasters say highs are not expected to exceed single digits expected in Georgia and Alabama

UPDATE: Frigid temperatures grounding flights, stranding passengers

CHICAGO (AP) -- The deep freeze that's spreading across much of the country is causing major disruptions for air travel.

More than 3,700 flights -- about one out of every 10 domestic departures -- were canceled by late Monday afternoon, the bulk of them in Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Boston.

With wind chills as low as 45 below zero at some airports, workers could only remain exposed on the ramp for a few minutes. That made loading and unloading luggage a challenge.

American Airlines said temperatures have been so cold at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport that fuel and de-icing liquids are actually freezing. United Airlines says its fuel is pumping slower than normal in Chicago.

JetBlue Airways stopped all scheduled flights to and from New York and Boston on Monday. Southwest ground to a halt in Chicago, but by Monday evening, the airline said "a trickle" of flights had resumed.

In recent years, airlines have cut the number of flights to ensure most planes depart full. While that's helping the airlines' finances, it leaves very few empty seats to rebook stranded travelers, and sometimes, it can take days to get everybody to their destinations.

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