The temperature on the Ivy Tech Community College sign read  -8 degrees just before 9 a.m. today. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/
The temperature on the Ivy Tech Community College sign read -8 degrees just before 9 a.m. today. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/
A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" descended today into much of the U.S., pummeling parts of the country with dangerous and bitter cold conditions as wind chill warnings stretched from Montana to Alabama.

For a big chunk of the Midwest, the sub-zero temperatures were moving behind another winter wallop: more than a foot of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous.

The National Weather Service warned of deadly wind chills as low as 45 below zero possible through Tuesday.

At 8:30 a.m. today, the Ivy Tech Community College thermometer on Clifty Drive registered the temperature at 8 below zero.

All Courierarea schools were closed.

Two public forums to discuss the Madison Consolidated Schools building proposal scheduled for today have been rescheduled for Wednesday at noon and 5 p.m.

The city's Board of Public Works and Safety meeting was still on schedule for 11:30 a.m. today. The Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals and Planning Commission meetings were canceled. Those meetings have been rescheduled for Jan. 8 at 5 and 5:30 p.m., respectively. They will be held in the Courthouse annex meeting room at 315 Jefferson St.

The Vision and Action Planning Committee meeting, scheduled for tonight at Ivy Tech Community College, has been canceled. It will be rescheduled.

Madison trash and recycling pickup will remain on schedule this week, but some delays are possible.

Madison Police Chief Dan Thurston said as of this morning, there hadn't been any weather-related accidents.

The Jefferson County Salvation Army and the Faith Covenant Church will be open today for those needing shelter.

In Jefferson County, 341 customers were without electricity this morning, according to Duke Energy. The largest number of outages was in Indianapolis, where some 26,000 homes and businesses were reported without electricity this morning.

The Indiana House and Senate were scheduled to begin the 2014 legislative session today, but have postponed the start because of the cold.

Because of the delayed start, the bill filing deadline for the General Assembly has been extended by one day to Jan. 13.

Gov. Mike Pence ordered all state government offices closed today, but has told essential personnel to report to work to ensure public safety and critical services are available.

Pence put Indiana National Guard members on standby to help out in case of emergencies. The governor ordered 24 four-person National Guard teams, each with two vehicles, to be ready to rescue stranded motorists, move people to shelters and assist local emergency management services workers. State officials say more National Guard members may be added if needed.

Armories deploying teams include Brazil, Columbus, Indianapolis, Johnson County, Lebanon, New Albany, Richmond, Scottsburg, Seymour, Shelbyville and Terre Haute.

The forecast is extreme: minus 32 in Fargo, N.D.; minus 21 in Madison, Wis.; and minus 15 in Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills - what it feels like outside when high winds are factored into the temperature - could drop into the minus 50s and 60s.

"It's just a dangerous cold," said National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye in Missouri.

It hasn't been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the country. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at 15 to 30 below zero.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard upgraded the city's travel emergency level to "red," making it illegal for anyone to drive except for emergencies or seeking shelter. The last time the city issued such a travel warning was during the 1978 blizzard.

For several Midwestern states, the bitter cold was adding to problems caused by a weekend snow storm. The National Weather Service said the snowfall at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport totaled more than 11 inches as of 6 p.m. Sunday - the most since the Feb. 2, 2011, storm that shut down the city's famed Lake Shore Drive.

Police in suburban Detroit said heavy snow was believed to have caused the roof to collapse at a two-story building that once housed a bar. No injuries are reported and police said no one was inside the building in Lake Orion, Mich., about 7 p.m. Sunday when the roof collapsed.

Missouri transportation officials said it was too cold for rock salt to be very effective, and several Illinois roadways were closed because of drifting snow.

More than 1,000 flights were canceled Sunday at airports throughout the Midwest including Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

Southern states were bracing for possible record temperatures, too, with single-digit highs expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.

Temperatures plunged into the 20s early today in north Georgia, the frigid start of dangerously cold temperatures for the first part of the week. The Georgia Department of Transportation said its crews were prepared to respond to reports of black ice in north Georgia.

Temperatures were expected to dip into the 30s in parts of Florida on Tuesday.

Though Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows said it must be at 28 degrees or lower four hours straight for fruit to freeze badly, fruits and vegetables were a concern in other parts of the South.

With two freezing nights ahead, Louisiana citrus farmers could lose any fruit they cannot pick in time.

In Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, Ben Becnel Jr. estimated that Ben & Ben Becnel Inc. had about 5,000 bushels of fruit on the trees, mostly navel oranges and the sweet, thin-skinned mandarin oranges called satsumas.

"We're scrambling right now," he said.