The fiercest outbreak of arctic air in two decades — a deadly “polar vortex” that has paralyzed air travel and closed roads and schools — locked almost the entire United States under subfreezing temperatures Tuesday.

As the worst of the winter blast shoved east, single-digit temperatures were recorded at sunrise as far south as Georgia and Alabama, and parts of Minnesota were as cold as 25 degrees below zero.

The major cities of the Northeast woke up to temperatures as much as 50 degrees colder than the day before. A 118-year-old record fell in Central Park in New York, where it was 5 degrees, the coldest reading on the books for Jan. 7.

Factor in the wind, and it felt like 31 below in Chicago, 16 below in New York and 45 below near the U.S.-Canadian border in Minnesota.

“For people stepping outside their front door in any of these cities this morning it will be a real shock,” said Kevin Roth, lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel. “It is going to be cold enough to take your breath away.”

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