BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Winter's sharpest bite in years moved past painful into life-threatening territory Tuesday, prompting officials throughout the Midwest to take extraordinary measures to protect the homeless and other vulnerable people from the bitter cold, including turning some city buses into mobile warming shelters in Chicago.

Temperatures plunged as low as minus 26 degrees in North Dakota with wind chills as low as minus 62 degrees in Minnesota. It was nearly that cold in Wisconsin and Illinois. Governors in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan declared emergencies as the worst of the cold threatened on Wednesday.

The bitter cold is the result of a split in the polar vortex that allowed temperatures to plunge much further south in North America than normal.

The National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday night called for temperatures in Chicago as low as minus 28 degrees, with wind chills to minus 50 degrees. Detroit's outlook was for Wednesday overnight lows around minus 15 degrees, with wind chills dropping to minus 40 degrees.

"These are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday. "They are life-threatening conditions and temperatures."

A wind chill of minus 25 can freeze skin within 15 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

At least four deaths were linked to the weather system, including a man struck and killed by a snow plow in the Chicago area, a young couple whose SUV struck another on a snowy road in northern Indiana and a Milwaukee man found frozen to death in a garage.

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