As the sun rose on Wednesday, 26 million Americans peered out their windows onto a land chilled to 20 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. And that’s when the air was still: When the wind picked up, as it did from Chicago to the Dakotas, it could feel like it was 50 below. Boiling water tossed from a pot turned into a cloud of snow before it could hit the ground.
The experience was half Uz, half Oz. But had Dorothy’s house been relocated to Mount Everest, not Munchkinland, her journey still would have been more pleasant than many midwesterners’ Wednesdays. They spent the day essentially shut down, as hundreds of schools, offices, universities, and even an ice castle closed. The National Weather Service advised against “talking” or “taking deep breaths” outside so as to keep delicate lung tissue from freezing on contact.
The vortex was felt nearly across the entire continent. As many as 225 million Americans—from Alabama to Nevada—could have started their 8 a.m. commute in below-freezing temperatures.