A University of Iowa student was found dead outside a building at the campus as the death toll from the polar vortex in the US hits 12.
Gerald Belz, a premed student, was found outside an academic hall just before 3am as temperatures dropped to -46C.
At least a dozen deaths related to extreme cold weather have been reported since Saturday in Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, according to officials and media reports.
Illinois State Police officers rescued 21 people who were stranded in a charter bus that broke down in subzero temperatures along Interstate 55 near Auburn after the vehicle’s diesel fuel turned to gel in its engine, according to the agency.
In Detroit, a 70-year-old man was found dead on a residential street, a Detroit police spokeswoman said. The man, dressed only in sleepwear, was also found dead on Wednesday, police there said.
Before the worst of the cold begins to lift, the National Weather Service said Chicago could hit lows early on Thursday that break the city’s record of -32C set on January 20, 1985. Some nearby isolated areas could see temperatures as low as -40C.
Classes were cancelled for Wednesday and Thursday for students across the Midwest, including Chicago, home of the nation’s third-largest school system, and police warned of the heightened risk of accidents on icy highways.
In a rare move, the US Postal Service appeared to set aside its credo that “neither snow nor rain … nor gloom of night” would stop its work as it suspended deliveries from parts of the Dakotas through Ohio.
Streets in Chicago were nearly empty, with few people walking outside in the painfully cold air as temperatures hovered around -28 Celsius. Wind-chill temperatures in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes plunged as low as -41C in Park Rapids, Minnesota, and to -35C in Fargo, North Dakota, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
More than a thousand flights, close to two-thirds of those scheduled, were cancelled on Wednesday into or out of Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway international airports, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware. The Amtrak passenger rail service cancelled all trains in and out of Chicago on Wednesday.
Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the NWS, said some of the coldest wind chills were recorded in International Falls, Minnesota, at minus 48C. Even the South Pole in Antarctica was warmer, with an expected low of minus 31C with wind chill.
Temperatures in Chicago will drop again “quite precipitously” on Wednesday night, Orrison said, potentially breaking the record low of minus 33C on January 21, 1985.
Banks and stores closed for business. Waste Management Inc, a major rubbish collection company, said it cancelled pick-ups in counties across the Midwest on Wednesday and Thursday.
The bitter cold was caused by a displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole but whose current was disrupted and was now pushing south.