Relief coming for blast-chilled Midwest, but not until after another record-low day

The harsh, frigid weather that has been blamed for nine deaths so far will blast critically low temperatures across the Midwest for at least another day before conditions finally begin to warm up late Thursday, forecasters said.

The winter system, created by an extreme polar vortex, will continue to make life especially miserable for Chicago and the rest of the Great Lakes region on Thursday, said the National Weather Service, which forecast lake effect snow of 3 to 4 feet downwind of Lake Ontario.

Combined with the system's strong winds, blizzard conditions were expected across the region. But the weather service said the system would shift northward by Thursday afternoon, accompanied by a gradual warm-up.

The frigid, icy conditions have been blamed for as many as nine deaths so far:

  • A University of Iowa student was found dead behind a campus building early Wednesday in an incident the university said may have been weather-related.
  • A person was killed in extreme wind-chill conditions in Tazewell County, Illinois, on Tuesday, state emergency management officials said. The exact circumstances weren't immediately clear, and emergency officials provided no information about the victim.
  • An 82-year-old man died Tuesday afternoon after he was found suffering from hypothermia outside his home in Pekin, Illinois, the Peoria County Coroner's Office said.
  • A man was found frozen in a detached garage near his home in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, apparently after he had been shoveling snow, the county medical examiner's office said Tuesday.
  • A man was killed when he was struck by a city snowplow at the end of his driveway Monday morning in Libertyville, Illinois, southwest of Waukegan, city officials said. The snowplow driver was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
  • A 31-year-old man was killed Monday when he lost control of his vehicle, struck a light pole and was ejected on icy Interstate 80 north of Des Moines, Iowa. The state patrol said the man was driving too fast for conditions.
  • A 9-year-old Nebraska boy died Sunday when the vehicle he was traveling in lost traction on icy I-80 in Cass County, Iowa, and rolled into a ditch. Five other people were injured, the Iowa State Patrol said.
  • A 59-year-old man was found dead Tuesday in his driveway near the border of Delaware and Madison counties in Indiana. Delaware County Coroner Rick Howell said it appeared that the man fell outside his home.
  • An 87-year-old woman was also found dead outside her home Sunday in Delaware County, Indiana. Howell, the coroner, said he was awaiting toxicology reports on her and the man who died Tuesday.

Temperatures will again plummet to record or near-record lows Thursday over many parts of the wider Upper Midwest after a day in which Fargo, North Dakota, hit minus 31 degrees, Minneapolis reached minus 27 and Chicago fell to minus 23.

More than 1,500 arrivals and departures were canceled at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on Wednesday, and almost 1,400 of Thursday's arrivals and departures were scrubbed in advance.

Related: Freezing weather caused by polar vortex:

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Freezing weather caused by polar vortex
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Freezing weather caused by polar vortex
Metra trains go in and out of the Western Avenue Station in subzero temperatures on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 in Chicago. This is the busiest station with over 300 trains passing through here on weekdays. The tracks are heated with gas-fired switch heaters that help prevent switching problems in extreme weather. Metra spokesperson Meg Reile said, 'They are like giant gas grills.' (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
A pedestrian stops to take a photo by Chicago River, as bitter cold phenomenon called the polar vortex has descended on much of the central and eastern United States, in Chicago, Illinois.
The city skyline is seen from the North Avenue Beach at Lake Michigan, as bitter cold phenomenon called the polar vortex has descended on much of the central and eastern United States, in Chicago, Illinois.
Workers help clear the parking lot at Monocacy commuter rail and bus station January 29, 2019 in Frederick, Maryland.
Commuters wait for the bus on South Pinckney Street in downtown Madison, Wis. as extreme temperatures hit the region.
Commuters drive into downtown Madison, Wis. on East Washington Ave. as extreme temperatures hit the region. 
A man and woman brave the elements during a polar vortex on as they prepare to cross the corner of Main Street and Salem Avenue in Carbondale, Pa.
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Amtrak said it would try to resume some service through Chicago on Thursday after all trains were canceled Wednesday, but it said Midwest Corridor service through the city would remain shuttered.

The U.S. Postal Service said mail delivery would again be canceled Thursday across many ZIP codes in Michigan, Indiana, central Illinois and western Pennsylvania.

"I think hell froze over, and I've been using hand warmers," Bryante Fletcher of Waterloo, Iowa, said Wednesday.

"I actually jacked my heat up to 80 last night — just for a spell, because I don't want my bill to be ridiculous," Fletcher told NBC affiliate WHO of Des Moines.

Hell, in fact, did freeze over.

The temperature fell to minus 15 on Wednesday in Hell, Michigan, population 76, where Jerry Duffie, a groundskeeper, told NBC affiliate WDIV of Detroit: "It's a brutal day in Hell. It's colder than Hell."

Daniel Szetu Gomez, a software engineering student at the Milwaukee School of Engineering who hails from Venezuela, said Wednesday was the coldest day of his life.

Back home, "it's always been around 30 degrees Celsius — which is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit," Szetu Gomez told NBC affiliate WTMJ of Milwaukee. "That's year-round. ...

"My face is really cold," he said. "It's like somebody is putting a block of ice on my face."

Meanwhile, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin spent much of Wednesday fighting the critical blowback from his observation that schools in Kentucky probably shouldn't have closed because Americans are too "soft."

"Now we cancel school for cold," Bevin said Tuesday in a radio interview. "I mean, there's no ice going with it or any snow. What happens to America? We're getting soft."

The reaction on Wednesday was chilling. NBC News meteorologist Al Roker called Bevin a "nitwit," while state Attorney General Andy Beshear — who's running for Bevin's job — characterized the comments as "another example of what this governor is not fit for office."

Bevin's response? He doubled down.

Bevin said Wednesday night on Twitter that "the tattered remnants of the mainstream media ... (including weatherman @alroker)" were "cutting & pasting quotes in order to mislead & elicit 'outrage' from the hyper-sensitive and easily fooled."

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