The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories covering a vast area from South Texas all the way to Canada and from Montana and Wyoming in the west through New England to the northern tip of Maine.
Dangerously low temperatures enveloped eight Midwest states including parts of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Nebraska along with nearly all of Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.
The weather service said a temperature of 15 below zero (-9.44 Celsius) was recorded in Omaha before midnight Sunday, breaking a record low dating back to 1884, and the temperature was still dropping early New Year's Day. That reading did not include the wind chill effect. Last week, Omaha officials cited the forecast in postponing the 18th annual New Year's Eve Fireworks Spectacular that draws around 30,000 people.
It was even colder in Des Moines early Monday at 20 below zero (-29 Celsius) and wind chill dipping to 31 below zero (-35 Celsius). Des Moines city officials had closed a downtown outdoor ice skating plaza and said it won't reopen until the city emerges from sub-zero temperatures.
The wind chill dipped to 36 below zero (-38 Celsius) in Duluth, Minnesota, a city known for its bitter cold winters. Steam rose up from Lake Superior as a ship moved through the harbor where ice was forming from the bitter cold.
An Indianapolis woman was in critical condition after she became confused in the snow and ice and turned her vehicle the wrong direction, driving 150 feet on a retention pond before her vehicle fell through the ice, according to WISH TV. She managed to make an emergency call but the phone went dead when the ice cracked.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's office said two bodies found on Sunday showed signs of hypothermia. They included a man in his 50s found on the ground in an alley and a 34-year-old man. Autopsies are being performed on both men.
Milwaukee's annual Polar Bear Plunge at Bradford Beach on Lake Michigan Monday could be even more dangerous than usual, a city official told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The wind chill was expected to be about 9 below zero (-13 Celsius) by the time of the event at noon.
'You're going to get hypothermic,' said Milwaukee Fire Battalion Chief Erich Roden. 'Everybody wants to do the polar plunge once in their life; it's a bucket list item. Unfortunately, it's something that can cause a lot of harm.'