Schools were closed, icy interstate highways were shut down and major city streets were deserted moonscapes Monday as frigid arctic conditions blanketed the Midwest and the East Coast in deep snow and wind chills well below zero.
The streets of Chicago were mostly empty as only a few hardy pedestrians bundled up to ward off wind chills that reached 30 below zero. The official low Monday morning, 13 below, was the coldest recorded in the Windy City in more than a decade, NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reported.
“The fingers start getting cold, the feet start getting cold,” said Art Jimenez, who delivers the mail in Chicago. “Try to move as fast as you can.”
Chicago’s 311 service was being overwhelmed with calls, NBC affiliate WMAQ-TV reported, and schools in Belvedere and Rockford, Ill., were closed. Emergency room doctors reported a higher number of frostbite cases than usual and urged people to dress in layers if they ventured out.
“Our body keeps warm by creating a local area of warm air around it,” said Dr. Martin Lucenti of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “That’s why layers are so important. You’re warming the air next to your skin.”
Still, some Chicagoans tried to put on a brave face.
“You live in the Midwest. You live by the lake, you know, by the Michigan lake. I mean, it’s cold all the time,” said Jeremy Grossenbacher, a Chicago resident.
A nationwide chill
Almost a foot of snow fell on Buffalo, forcing officials to close a 38-mile stretch of the New York Thruway. A lake effect snow warning was extended until 6 p.m. Tuesday, with 2 to 6 more inches expected and wind chills dropping as low as 30 below, NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV reported.
Downstate, ice on the Hudson River forced New York Waterway officials to shut down ferry service from Haverstraw to Ossining. Little relief was expected for commuters as the high was not expected to top 18 degrees Monday, NBC affiliate WNBC-TV reported from New York City.
Roads were open in Grand Rapids, Mich., but they were largely impassable, and dozens of drivers spun out because plows could not stay ahead of the snow and ice. Highs were not expected to get out of the 20s for the rest of the week, and with another low-pressure system moving through the area, meteorologists forecast heavier snow showers Tuesday.
More than 600 schools were closed in the Cleveland area, where wind chills reached 20 below and a high of 8 was forecast. All Milwaukee schools closed after wind chills dropped near 40 below.
In Camden, N.J., officials issued a code blue alert Monday, warning residents to stay indoors.
“I’ve got about three jackets on, two pairs of pants, two socks and two pairs of boots,” said Harriet Dunlop, a newspaper vendor in Coatesville, Pa., where the low Monday morning dipped to 6 degrees.
The coldest spot was Embarrass, Minn., where the official temperature hit 42 below shortly after daybreak, NBC affiliate KARE-TV reported from Minneapolis, where students were stranded in the cold after their school buses could not reach them.
‘I love it!’
While the eastern half of the country was expected to remain frozen for several more days, farther west, people were looking forward to rapidly rising temperatures Tuesday, which could let them begin digging out from weeks of snow.
In Denver, where record snowfall that so far this season has already topped the annual average of 61.7 inches, with four months to go, Maggie Brodsky was as happy as a groundhog on Groundhog Day.
“I think it’s really pretty,” she told Anastasiya Bolton of NBC affiliate KUSA-TV. “I do! I love it!”
But Dean Nye of Denver was resigned as he struggled to dislodge his snowed-in car.
“It’s getting old. Who’s counting at this point? I’ve given up,” Nye said. “I’m just expecting this until May.”
Nye’s reaction was more typical of the claustrophobic effects of being locked indoors, said Mary Ann Watson, a clinical psychologist in Denver, who said millions could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
“Some of the signs of that are fatigue — you have less energy,” she said. “The tendency is to want to eat some of the worst things for you.”
Watson advised anyone climbing the walls inside to make an effort to get out and socialize.
“Getting some sort of exercise, finding some sort of light source” is key, she said, “and generally if you don’t have something inside, outside certainly is usually better.”
By MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson with NBC’s Kevin Tibbles in Chicago and Anastasiya Bolton of KUSA-TV.