The past 48 hours in the American Midwest have been about endurance, as a breathtaking cold settled in over a massive stretch of the country. The record-setting frigid temperatures — some of the coldest on the planet Thursday — have frozen the Great Lakes, taxed electrical and natural gas infrastructure, endangered livestock and tested the mettle of millions who are used to the cold but had never experienced anything like this. In some areas Thursday, temperatures dropped below minus-50 degrees, and the extreme weather was blamed for several deaths across the region, including people who appear to have frozen to death in Milwaukee, Detroit and Rochester, Minn.
From Minnesota to New York, the polar vortex again prompted school closures, mail service interruptions and thousands of flight cancellations, many of them in and out of Chicago, which appeared otherworldly in a coating of frost and ice. Eighteen factories run by General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford shut down Thursday because of the brutal weather and a fire at a natural gas compressor station.