Millions Forced To Cope With Frigid Weather

The coldest temperatures in years and gusty winds that blasted the Midwest are expected to travel as far south as Brownsville, Texas, and Central Florida. The arctic air has caused temperatures to drop 20 to 40 degrees below average in several states and forced businesses and schools to close.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A bone chilling cold snap will affect nearly 200 million people in the United States before it subsides. Many areas of the country have wind chill warnings or advisories in place. The cold is sweeping today, east and even south. The Midwest has been frozen now for a couple days. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Walk down a Chicago street and you might not even recognize your best friend. The frigid temperatures mean just about everybody is bundled - scarves drawn tight, hats pulled down low, often only eyes visible.

LENNY MILES: It's too cold. It seems like it's 20 below.

CORLEY: Chicagoan Lenny Miles, who's giving a coworker's stalled car a jump wasn't too far off the mark. The city set a record at -16 Monday, colder than the temperature in Antarctica. Add to that a weekend snowstorm, and it's the type of weather that can make any Chicago mayor anxious. Thirty-five years ago one mayor lost his job when the snow packed streets weren't cleared. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel sounds like he remembers.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: I want to make sure the streets are clean so people can get to and from work. They can get to the grocery, get what they need during this temperature and during this weather. I want to make sure the streets are clean.

CORLEY: Even so, the cold weather has meant closed schools in Chicago and other cities, power outages in places like Indianapolis, treacherous travel throughout the Midwest, and lots of people hibernating at home. Chicagoan John Willis ventured outside yesterday and says he knows all about this type of weather.

JOHN WILLIS: I started at the post office in 1995. It was sixty below zero.

CORLEY: That was the wind chill nearly 20 years ago and the last time many parts of the country witnessed that type of cold. Willis isn't worried, though, about today's dangerous temperatures.

WILLIS: I took vacation for this week, so. It was the right time.

CORLEY: The right time to put aside that unofficial motto of neither snow nor rain nor heat shall stop us, but in Milwaukee, Steven Fye(ph) is ready to take it on. He's a bicycle courier and he's dressed for the cold.

STEVE FYE: I have two bottom pairs of tights on, four upper pieces of tights on, a wool jersey over that, cycling jacket over that, two pairs of socks.

CORLEY: The frigid weather can also mean nearly nonstop work for the owner of a Massachusetts construction firm and his plumbers, so Brendan Morrissey says he's been calling his customers.

BRENDAN MORRISSEY: Yeah. I'm just telling them to make sure the heat is turned up an extra four, five degrees. Make sure they close the garage door and run the faucets very slowly.

CORLEY: So the pipes won't freeze.

MORRISSEY: Because a frozen pipe that bursts, it can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

CORLEY: So preparation has been key, especially in the South where states are bracing for possible record temperatures in the single digits today. Jean Thompson of south Nashville says she has new central heating and a backup.

JEAN THOMPSON: Three space heaters, one kerosene heater, and as many blankets as we need.

CORLEY: The good news is that the polar freeze should end soon with the weather back to normal by this Thursday or Friday. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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