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‘Minimize talking’ outside: Polar vortex bears down on North as Deep South braces for snow

A major snowstorm lashing parts of the Midwest on Monday will give way to record-smashing cold this week as a powerful Polar Vortex drives a deep freeze across the nation, forecasters say.

A snowstorm will also wreak havoc across the Deep South on Tuesday.

The bitter cold will bring below-zero temperatures to a quarter of the continental U.S. The National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa, warned that “this is the coldest air many of us will have ever experienced” and, if outside, “avoid taking deep breaths, and minimize talking.”

Schools could be closed in Iowa as buses may struggle to start, the weather service said.

Wednesday could be the coldest day ever recorded in Chicago, with a forecast high of only 14 below zero, the weather service said.

“Some locations in the Midwest will be below zero continuously for 48-72 hours,” according to AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Doll.

Start your day smarter: Get USA TODAY’s Daily Briefing in your inbox meteorologist Ryan Maue said a “blend of models” shows that 55 million people in 24 percent of the continental U.S. land could be at zero degrees or lower Wednesday morning. In Chicago, wind chills as low as 55 below zero are “likely” midweek, the weather service said. Some areas could hit 60 below zero in the northern Plains.

On Monday, parts of the Upper Midwest were under siege from a major snowstorm coupled with wind gusts of up to 40 mph to create blizzard-like conditions. In parts of Wisconsin, snow was falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour.  Almost a foot had fallen in Hartford, Wisconsin, as of early Monday.