Discuss as:

JetBlue halts flights at 4 airports as deep freeze bears down on Northeast

As the snowy Midwest digs out from the latest storm, wind chills hit 56 degrees below zero in some places. NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports.

JetBlue Airways, recovering from heavy weekend delays and getting ready for a deep freeze overnight in the Northeast, took the extraordinary step Monday of grounding flights for 17 hours at four of the busiest airports in the country.

The shutdown, which covers the three major New York airports and Boston's Logan International, was to take effect at 5 p.m. ET Monday, the airline said in a statement. JetBlue said it would ramp up service again at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday and expects to be fully operational again by 3 p.m.

"We regret the impact to our customers," the airline said.

NBC's Anne Thompson reports from John F. Kennedy Airport, where JetBlue says it won't fly again in New York or Boston until Tuesday.

Bad weather over the weekend forced thousands of delays and cancellations for major airlines.

By 7 p.m. ET, almost 4,000 flights into and out of U.S. airports had been canceled Monday — more than 1,600 of them at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport alone. Almost 300 had been canceled at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport.

Amtrak, meanwhile, said it had suspended Acela Express and Northeast Regional service between Philadelphia and Baltimore because of mechanical problems involving the overhead electrical system near Wilmington, Del. Passengers who have paid but chosen not to travel can still get a refund or a voucher for future travel, it said.

A churning mass of record-breaking, life-threatening arctic air is pushing across the country, so broad that every state except Hawaii is expected to see freezing temperatures by Tuesday.

Temperatures in the 20s and 30s below zero spread over much of the Upper Midwest on Monday morning. Twenty-six states were under warnings or watches for severe wind chill as the result of a weather phenomenon known as a polar vortex — essentially an arctic cyclone that normally sits near the North Pole but has pushed unusually far south.

In northern Minnesota, the towns of Embarrass, Babbitt and Brimson all reached minus-40, Gov. Mark Dayton ordered schools across the state closed because — the first time that has happened in 17 years.

"These are some temperatures that we haven't seen in decades," said Jen Carfagna, a forecaster for The Weather Channel.

Kevin Roth, a lead meteorologist for The Weather Channel, warned that anyone venturing outside without wrapping up risked frostbite in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

"It's tough on all of us. You can't stay out here real long," said George Sipus of Indianapolis Power and Light, which was still working Monday night to restore power to 22,000 customers.

"It takes time to get stuff up and get the trees off and get the wires back up," Sipus told NBC station WTHR of Indianapolis. "It's just going to  be a slow process. But we're gaining on it, absolutely."

Monday is already the most depressing day of the year, according to a British study that blamed the return to work for many people, the hangover from holiday spending and busted New Year's resolutions.

The cold simply added to the misery. Examples were everywhere:

  • Indiana Gov. Mike Pence declared a state of disaster emergency for 29 counties, and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard declared a level-red travel emergency, making it illegal for anyone to drive except in emergencies or to get to shelter. It was the first time that has happened since 1978.
  • Along Interstate 57 in Illinois, the Southern Illinois University men's basketball team, traveling home by bus after a loss at Illinois State, got stuck in the snow. The team wound up sleeping on the floor of a church in the city of Tuscola.
  • It was so cold overnight that both engines froze on an Amtrak train from Detroit to Chicago, stranding passengers for nine hours just past Kalamazoo, Mich., until another train arrived to tug it the rest of the way home. The heat stayed on, but the episode tested patience. "Not exactly in the best of spirits," Valerie King, a journalism student at Northwestern University, posted to Twitter from inside the train. Finally in Chicago, she snapped a photo of the train's outside, which looked freezer-burned.
  • In Florida, citrus growers crossed their fingers. A spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, an industry group, told the AP that the danger zone was 28 degrees for four hours straight — and suggesting that it was going to be a close call. Overnight lows were expected to be near freezing in central Florida, according to Weather.com.
  • In Lexington, Ky., temperatures fell 55 degrees in less than 24 hours, with wind chills at minus-20 Monday. A car lost control on a patch of black ice Monday morning on Interstate 75 in Laurel County, causing a two-vehicle crash that killed the driver, NBC station WLEX of Lexington reported.
  • An elderly man was found dead from the cold in Christian County, Ill., just a few feet from safety, the sheriff's office said. The man tried to walk home after his car broke down about a mile away; his body was found in his driveway Monday morning. His identity wasn't immediately released.
  • It was so cold that in Clarksville, Iowa, that firefighters were tagging in and out like wrestlers as they battled a house fire, only to find their hoses were frozen. Almost five hours after it started Monday morning, the fire was still burning, and the house was totaled, NBC station KWWL of Waterloo reported.

By Wednesday, the big chill should be on its way out, and by Thursday, highs in much of the Great Lakes and the Northeast will climb all the way into the 20s and the 30s, forecasters said.

The polar vortex normally sits over the North Pole, but it's now moving south, bringing dangerously cold air all the way down to Savannah, Ga. NBC's Al Roker reports.


This story was originally published on