For many across the region, life ground to a halt.
In Chicago, home to the nation's third-largest school system, officials plan to cancel classes for all 360,000 students on Wednesday due to the weather. Detroit also said all public schools would close, and Michigan State University said it would suspend classes, only the seventh time it has done so because of weather since 1855.
The Chicago Zoological Society said it would shut Brookfield Zoo for only the fourth time in its 85-year history on Tuesday and Wednesday.
According to the National Weather Service, the coldest recorded temperature in Chicago was minus 27 degrees (minus 33C) on Jan. 20, 1985.
Officials in Des Moines, Iowa, opened warming shelters, but also suggested residents could stay warm inside shopping malls.
In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp shut government offices in 35 counties on Tuesday, and schools across parts of the state were also closed.
In Fargo, North Dakota, where the temperature dropped to minus 24F (minus 31C), Dan Hallock, an advertising executive, marveled that people were still working outside as he bought coffee.
"The garbage men of Fargo have my utmost respect," he said.