CHICAGO — First came the days of snow. Then the fierce winds. Finally the temperatures plummeted to depths that stunned even Midwesterners. The cold that the middle of the country woke up to on Wednesday was the sort that makes cars moan, that makes breathing hurt, that makes any bit of exposed skin sting.
Cities like Chicago had been preparing for the deep freeze for days, and by the time it arrived in earnest overnight on Tuesday, most of life had come to a standstill. Colleges were closed in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, and schools were closed all around. Workers were sent home, meetings canceled, parties called off.
The National Weather Service recorded early Wednesday morning temperatures of minus 19 in Milwaukee, with a wind chill of minus 46; minus 20 in Chicago, with a windchill of minus 45; and minus 27 in Minneapolis, with a wind chill of minus 51.
Officials were on high alert across the region. Temperature records were expected to be broken in a region that has set more than its share of them and where winter’s rages are routinely treated with stoicism and a yawn. Emergency declarations were issued. And residents were given all sorts of urgent warnings and robocalls that ultimately boiled down to two words: Stay inside.
Wind aside, the high temperature in Chicago was expected to be minus 12 on Wednesday, the low minus 22, according to predictions Wednesday morning.