Frozen Arctic winds brought record-low temperatures across much of the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday, unnerving residents accustomed to brutal winters and keeping them huddled indoors as offices closed and even mail carriers halted their rounds.

In a rare move, the U.S. Postal Service appeared to temporarily set aside its credo that “neither snow nor rain … nor gloom of night” would stop its work, but it halted deliveries from parts of the Dakotas through Ohio.

The bitter cold was caused by a displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current was disrupted and was now pushing south.

The National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa, warned that “this is the coldest air many of us will have ever experienced.” The service said that if people go outside, they should “avoid taking deep breaths, and minimize talking.”

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