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Brutal Cold Covering Much of United States Today

CHICAGO -- Lives are in danger as strong winds and brutally cold temperatures are pushing across much of the U.S.
CHICAGO -- Lives are in danger as strong winds and brutally cold temperatures are pushing across much of the U.S. 

This temperature sign in Minot, North Dakota says it all -it's punishingly cold.
An arctic air mass known as a polar vortex is spreading dangerously frigid temperatures across most the U.S.

Many cities in the middle of the country won't even reach zero today.

"Minneapolis-St. Paul will be lucky to get 15 below, Chicago will be lucky to get to 9 below," says Chris Shaffer, a meteorologist at WCCO in Minneapolis.

And then there's the wind. "We get life threatening windchills that are at that 50 below zero category."

Wind chill warnings stretch from Montana to Alabama.

Frostbite can set in within minutes.  Health officials are warning people to stay inside.  But if you have to go out, bundle up so you have as little exposed skin as possible. 

Many cities across the Midwest have cancelled school today in order to keep children indoors.

"The cold temperatures we are expecting this coming week are more than an inconvenience. They are serious, they are dangerous and they can cause a serious health risk," says Dr. Bechara Choucair with the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The subzero temperatures are expected to break records that have stood for decades.

In New York City, temperatures will drop nearly 50 degrees over the next 24 hours.  And the thermometer will be in the 30's in parts of Florida tomorrow.


(Marlie Hall for CBS News)

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