Hospitals in the US have been treating patients for frostbite as temperatures drop to -17C and lower. Chicago saw lows of -30C and -37C in North Dakota, as the ‘polar vortex’ hit the American Midwest in one of the worst cold snaps the regions has seen.

The death toll has risen to at least 21, with homeless people being particularly at risk. Warming shelters have been set up across the country, however some are attempting to face the temperatures without them. For example one woman, aged 60, was found dead in an abandoned house in Lorain, Ohio. A hospital in Chicago has reportedly treated 50 patients for frostbite, with half of those being homeless. It has been reported that some citizens have been found dead a short walk from their homes. Roads have been a serious danger and have been a factor in the death toll.

Schools and businesses have been closed, flights cancelled and post services suspended. Chicago has been using fire to melt snow and ice on the railway to keep trains running. The US National Weather Service has warned that a wind chill of -32C could freeze a person’s skin within 15 minutes. More than 30 temperature record lows have been broken throughout the region.

With the weather, stories of charity and kindness have emerged. After an explosion of about 100 propane tanks in Chicago, that were being used by homeless people to keep warm, an anonymous donor pledged to cover the cost of hotel rooms for all 70 of those affected. In Cleveland, Ohio, people have been tying warm clothes to a ‘wall of love’ for the city’s homeless population, and local restaurants in Kansas City, Missouri, delivered hot food to a family of nine with a broken boiler, who crowded around an electric heater. One woman kindly offered to pay for a hotel for the family, something they gratefully accepted. Andrea Cusack, a pharmacist in Lake Odessa, Michigan, has been asking her 15-year-old son to drive their family snowmobile in order to ensure her customers receive their vital medication.

Temperatures are now expected to rise to as high as 10C in Chicago. David Hamrick, a National Weather Service Forecaster, told Reuters news agency, ‘It’s going to be at least a 60-degree swing for Chicago’. The US National Weather Service has now warned people over massive temperature swings, something that the US media have labelled a ‘thermal backlash’.

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