CHICAGO (AP) — A blast of polar air enveloped much of the Midwest on Wednesday, cracking train rails, breaking water pipes and straining electrical systems across the Rust Belt with some of the lowest temperatures in a generation.

The deep freeze closed schools and businesses and canceled flights in the nation's third-largest city, which was as cold as the Arctic. Heavily dressed repair crews hustled to keep utilities from failing.

Chicago dropped to a low of around minus 23 degrees, slightly above the city's lowest-ever reading of minus 27 degrees from January 1985. Milwaukee had similar conditions. Minneapolis recorded minus 27 (minus 32 Celsius). Sioux Falls, South Dakota, saw minus 25 degrees.

Wind chills reportedly made it feel like minus 50 degrees or worse. Downtown Chicago streets were largely deserted after most offices told employees to stay home. Trains and buses operated with few passengers. The hardiest commuters ventured out only after covering nearly every square inch of flesh against the extreme chill, which froze ice crystals on eyelashes and eyebrows in minutes.

The Postal Service took the rare step of suspending mail delivery in many places, and in southeastern Minnesota, even the snowplows were idled by the weather.

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