A blast of cold air from the Arctic locked swaths of the United States in a deep freeze Wednesday with temperatures falling to as much as 30 degrees below average.
The icy punch arrived Tuesday and is the first of two Arctic air masses to descend from the north this week. The second will arrive across Friday and Saturday and could see temperatures plummet to 50 degrees below average in some places, according to the National Weather Service.
"It is getting so cold that people will really feel it as soon as they step outside," said Kevin Roth, lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel. "We won’t see the really low numbers that we did in January, but the main difference will be the much lower highs in the daytime."
The worst-affected areas on Wednesday were set to be an area stretching from Minnesota to Michigan, where temperatures were as low as minus 13 just before 4 a.m. ET, according to the National Weather Service.
Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay were all on course for record temperatures: If they fail to get above six, five, and zero degrees respectively on Thursday it will be the lowest high ever recorded this late in the year.
Roth said that the freeze had caused ice jams in rivers all across the Midwest, and the cold was starting to put a strain on gas and road-salt supplies.
The Arctic blast also affected the East, with light snow reported in Washington, D.C., early Wednesday and snow forecast for the next three days in New York City, according to NBC News New York.
Drought-hit California was also in for some much-needed rain as the first in a series of storms was expected to hit Wednesday.