Polar vortex: Over 2 dozen dead after cold blast engulfs Midwest, Northern Plains

Dangerously frigid temperatures swept across the Midwest and Northern Plains on Wednesday, bringing record breaking low temperatures that closed schools and businesses and prompting a suspension of mail delivery in more than a half dozen states.

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Update 11:20 p.m. EST Feb. 1: The estimated death toll from weather-related incidents has risen to at least 27 across eight states.

In Illinois alone, hospitals reported more than 220 cases of frostbite and hypothermia since Tuesday, when the polar vortex moved in and overnight temperatures plunged to minus 30 or lower — with wind chills of minus 50 or worse in some areas.

By Friday, the deep freeze had mostly abated, with temperatures climbing as high as the low 20s in Minneapolis and Chicago. In western North Dakota, the temperature in Dickinson climbed above freezing by midmorning — a jump of nearly 60 degrees compared with Tuesday’s low of minus 17 degrees.

Update 1:50 p.m. EST Feb. 1: By Friday morning, the dangerously cold and snowy weather brought by the polar vortex was suspected in at least 18 deaths, according to The Associated Press.

Police in Illinois told WQAD-TV on Friday that they believe weather played a part in the death of a FedEx worker who was found dead outside a FedEx Freight delivery hub in East Moline.

The body of William L. Murphy, 69, was found Thursday morning between two tractor-trailers, according to WQAD-TV. Police told the news station it was unclear how long he had been outside but added that investigators did not suspect foul play.

Update 2:50 p.m. EST Jan. 31: Temperatures that plunged across the Midwest as polar air swept over parts of the U.S. this week are expected to rise by as many as 80 degrees by early next week, according to The Associated Press.

Disruptions caused by the cold are expected to persist, including power outages and canceled flights and trains. But cities across the Midwest will see a warmup by this weekend, including a temperature yo-yo of around 70 degrees in Minneapolis. The jump will be even larger in Rockford, Illinois, a city northwest of Chicago, that awoke Thursday to a record-breaking temperature of negative 30 degrees. The forecast Monday in Rockford calls for a high of 51 degrees.

In western New York, a storm that dumped up to 20 inches of snow was over by Thursday but gave way to subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills. The frigid temperatures likely contributed to the death of a well-known homeless man who was found dead Thursday morning in a bus shelter in Amherst, The Buffalo News reported.

Several other deaths in recent days have been linked to the polar vortex, including the death of a Milwaukee man who was found frozen in his garage on Wednesday  morning. Officials with the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office told the AP they were investigating the death of a 38-year-old woman found frozen in her apartment Wednesday night. Authorities said they determined her apartment's thermostat had malfunctioned.

Update 1 p.m. EST Jan. 31: Authorities in Ohio said a 60-year-old woman found dead in an abandoned house Wednesday morning appeared to have died of hypothermia as frigid temperatures swept through the area, The Chronicle-Telegram reported reported.

In Michigan, police said Thursday that a 60-year-old man was found dead in East Lansing, the Detroit Free-Press reported. The man was found outdoors, according to the newspaper. Authorities told the Free-Press an autopsy will be performed to determine the man's cause of death, but authorities do not suspect foul play.

The Associated Press reported earlier Thursday that at least eight deaths have been linked to the polar vortex.

Update 11:05 a.m. EST Jan. 31: Thousands of flights were canceled in and out of Chicago airports on Thursday as the Midwest prepared for a second day of extreme cold temperatures.

Officials with the National Weather Service said Thursday morning that the low temperature in Chicago was recorded at -21 degrees, shattering previous low temperature records.

Update 7:30 p.m. EST Jan. 30: The death toll is climbing as a blast of extreme cold settled over much of the Rust Belt. As many as eight people have died, according to The Associated Press, including an elderly man in Illinois who fell while trying to get inside his house and a University of Iowa student, who was found behind a building on campus. A Milwaukee man was also found frozen in his garage.

Some 2,700 flights were canceled nationwide, the AP reported, with more than half out of Chicago. More flights are expected to be canceled on Thursday.

The mercury dropped to well below zero across the region. Chicago and Milwaukee recorded lows around minus 23. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, watched temperatures dip to minus 25 and Minneapolis saw a dip to 27 below zero.

Update 5 p.m. EST Jan. 30: On the FAA Flight Delay Information page, all major airports in the New York City area including Newark International were issued a ground stop due to weather.

Update 1:15 p.m. EST Jan. 30: At least four deaths have been linked to the deep freeze, according to The Associated Press. The deaths include a man who was struck and killed by a snow plow in Chicago and a man who was found frozen in his garage in Milwaukee.

Update 8:55 a.m. EST Jan 30: About 212 million people across the country, or about 72 percent of the population of the continental United States, will experience below-freezing temperatures over the next few days, according to CNN. The news network reported that more than 83 million Americans were expected to see subzero temperatures between Wednesday and Monday.

In Warrensburg, Missouri, police asked criminals to "keep the criminalling to a minimum."

"It's REALLY cold out," police said Monday in a Facebook post.

Update 1:54 a.m. EST Jan. 30: Because of the threat of dangerously cold weather in the Midwest as a polar vortex pushes into the area, the U.S Postal Service is suspending its service Wednesday in at least nine states.

The USPS issued a service alert on its website, noting that some areas could see wind chill readings "as low as 60 below zero."

"Due to this arctic outbreak and concerns for the safety of USPS employees, the Postal Service is suspending delivery Jan. 30," the USPS posted on its website.

Update 7:00 p.m. EST Jan. 29: The United States Postal Service announced it will suspend mail delivery service Wednesday in four states as a polar vortex pushes dangerously cold temperatures into parts of the Midwest.

The suspension, due to "deteriorating weather conditions," will affect Minnesota, Western Wisconsin, Iowa and Western Illinois, according to the Des Moines Register.

Local post office branches in these areas may be open, but operations could be limited.

Mail collection and commercial package pickups have also been suspended Wednesday at businesses, private residences and collection boxes.

Temperatures in the Midwest are expected to hover at or below zero through Thursday.

Original story: The motto goes, "Neither snow nor rain not heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," and letter carriers will once again join all of the other workers who have to do their jobs in extreme weather.

This week, the Northeast will be under the blanket of an Arctic blast, Accuweather reported. Weather experts warn people to stay inside when temperatures dip into the teens and below, but some can't stay inside.

Forecasters are predicting wind chills in Cleveland, Ohio, to feel like it is minus 35 degrees Wednesday, WJW reported.

Frostbite could develop on exposed skin within 10 minutes in those conditions.

Despite the risk, the mail will still be delivered and garbage will still be collected.

FILE PHOTO: A mail carrier walks through the snow on March 21, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Despite dangers, mail delivery is among the services that continues when weather gets frigid.

Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

But should it when it is that dangerously cold outside?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said workers who have to deal with cold and wind can get cold stress, WJW reported.

But there’s no official law or rule that prohibits workers from having to complete their rounds in cold weather.

OSHA, however, does say that employers must protect workers from recognized hazards. That includes cold stress.

One man agrees, and has gone viral with a Facebook post that says he doesn't need mail Wednesday at the risk of letter carriers health.

And more than a thousand comments on the post seem to agree.

A few communities in Ohio have delayed their garbage pickup to make sure those who pick up the trash stay safe and warm, WJW reported.

Parking attendants also face the cold weather, despite having small booths that give them shelter from storms.

"I will be in and out of the cold, helping people park and show them where to park at," Andrew Montgomery, one such parking attendant, told WTMJ.

He returns to the booth, which has two heaters, when he gets too cold, but he said he can’t stay in there long during Milwaukee cold snaps.

"I just bear with it, though," Montgomery told WTMJ.

Even dog-walkers in Nebraska still have to take the dogs out, despite wind chills below zero, KMTV reported.

The walks, though, are shorter than normal.

"It's cold for us, it's cold for them. They normally lead us back home pretty quickly," Ross Friehe told KMTV.

Valets at an Omaha medical practice use hand-warmers and take sanctuary inside when they can.

"We encourage letting the staff inside, letting them warm up a bit, kid of warm the body and any extra breaks we can provide to send the guys and gals back in," Cole Foster, assistant manager of the Buffett Cancer Center, told KMTV.

What You Need To Know: Wind Chill