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William Spain, John Bacon and Doyle Rice
USA Today

CHICAGO -- A blast of swirling, bitterly cold air sweeping across a large swath of the nation Monday was leaving record-low temperatures, dangerous conditions and travel nightmares in its wake.

Chicagoans awoke to a fresh foot of snow and a record low of minus-15 degrees Monday, with a wind chill temperature in the minus 40s. Tulsa set a record with a temperature of minus 2 degrees; Austin, Tex., tied its record with 22 degrees. Sioux Falls, S.D., just missed a record with its temperature of minus 18, although the accompanying wind chill was a robust minus 37.

The temperature reached minus-23 degrees in Fargo, N.D., but residents could look forward to a daytime high climbing all the way to minus 19, the National Weather Service reported.

It was minus 20 in Minneapolis at 9 a.m.

"Anyone stuck outside for any length of time will be at serious risk for injury or death," the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities warned.

The most brutal cold will continue overnight in the upper Midwest, with wind chills in the minus 50s and minus 60s, said AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines.

"In the East, the brunt of the cold air will be tonight (Monday night) and Tuesday," he added. He said that with the wind chill, it will feel like it's in the minus teens and minus twenties across much of the eastern part of the country on Tuesday.

Those numbers don't seem so bad right now in Chicago, where officials warned people to stay inside -- though there was little reason to go anywhere. Much of the city was shut down, including the famed SkyDeck Chicago at the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower.

"This is some of the most extreme weather we have seen in the City of Chicago in decades," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

In the neighborhoods, forests of huge icicles hung from the gutters of many houses. Some cars were essentially stuck to the ground as a result of the recent snow storm. Pipes froze, leaving some residents without water.

David Mousseau, an energy company manager, quickly abandoned a plan to drive to work. "I went out and started the car but my feet were frozen within five minutes, Mousseau said. "And I had on all the stuff I would for skiing. So I decided to pass."

In Madison, Wis., Walt Laskos is enduring his first winter after 17 years in Temecula, Calif. Monday's forecast high for Temecula -- 77 degrees. Madison -- 12 below zero. Welcome to Wisconsin.

"This current freeze... is simply abominable!" Laskos lamented.

Schools were closed Monday across Minnesota. In Indiana, the General Assembly postponed the opening day of its 2014 session, and the state appellate courts, including the Indiana Supreme Court, shut down. Many cities came to a virtual standstill. It hasn't been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the country.

MORE: Ways to stay safe during frigid cold

WEATHER:It's so freaking cold that...

More than 4,200 flights were canceled nationwide by 4 p.m ET. Monday, with more than 6,200 delayed, flightstats.com reported.

American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said fuel supplies were freezing at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and other airports in the Midwest and Northeast.

"Our employees are only able to be out on the ramp for a few minutes at a time because wind chills are as low as 45 below zero at some airports," he said. "We will have minimal operations today in Chicago and in other cities in the Midwest and Northeast."

JetBlue Airways virtually ceased operations to and from Boston, Newark and New York City to deal with the backlog caused by the cold snap and the snow and ice that preceded it in some cities.

In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence ordered the National Guard to assist in rescuing stranded motorists, moving individuals to shelters, and transporting local emergency medical services in reaching individuals who need medical attention. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard upgraded the city's travel emergency level to "red," making it illegal for anyone to drive except for emergencies or seeking shelter. The last time the city issued such a travel warning was during the 1978 blizzard.

The so-called "polar vortex" -- the mass of cold air swirling over the North Pole that broke away and roared south -- is sliding East. New Yorkers who saw temperatures above 50 degrees Monday morning will see them drop to single digits Monday night. Tuesday's forecast high: 11 degrees.

Southern states are bracing for possible record temperatures, too, with single-digit highs expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.

Temperatures in some areas of Georgia were expected to stay below freezing for more than 48 hours, with record cold lows likely Tuesday morning. Wind chill values will be below zero in some areas Monday night and Tuesday morning.

Temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s in parts of Florida on Tuesday. Though Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows said it must be at 28 degrees or lower for four hours straight for fruit to freeze badly, fruits and vegetables were a concern in other parts of the South.

With two freezing nights ahead, Louisiana citrus farmers could lose any fruit they cannot pick in time.

In Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, Ben Becnel Jr. estimated that Ben & Ben Becnel Inc. had about 5,000 bushels of fruit on the trees, mostly navel oranges and the sweet, thin-skinned mandarin oranges called satsumas.

"We're scrambling right now," he said.

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, Nancy Trejos and William T. Welch, USA TODAY; Indianapolis Star; WXIA-TV Atlanta; Associated Press

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