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NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Arctic blast gripped the U.S. Midwest and Northeast on Tuesday, with at least three deaths linked to the frigid weather, and fierce winds made some locations feel as cold as 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. (minus 46 degrees Celsius)
"We're seeing some life-threatening temperatures in Minnesota and northern Wisconsin," said meteorologist Mike Sowko of the National Weather Service.
"They are closest to the source of the cold air, which is from the Arctic and Canada," he said.
Winds blasting across the Great Lakes over the past few days into Tuesday also resulted in up to 18 inches of snow falling in northeast Ohio, northwest Pennsylvania and upstate New York.
"Pretty much the southeast side of any Great Lake got lake effect snow," Sowko said.
Icy conditions were blamed for a 76-vehicle pileup on Ohio's Interstate 275 near Cincinnati on Monday, which killed a 12-year-old girl and injured dozens of people, authorities said.
Elsewhere, two deaths from exposure were tied to the cold snap, according to media reports.
In northwestern Minnesota, the Mahnomen County sheriff's office said a man found in a storage building on Saturday died from hypothermia according to a preliminary autopsy report, the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper reported.
A Des Plaines, Illinois, man had died from hypothermia over the weekend, the seventh cold-related death this season, the Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday quoting the Cook County medical examiner's office.
Schools, set to resume classes on Tuesday after Monday's national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, were canceled in some states including Massachusetts and Ohio.
Wind chill advisories were in effect throughout the Midwest and Northeast on Tuesday, with last winter's unseasonably warm temperatures making this January blast seem even colder, Sowko said.
As a result, temperatures felt like 50 degrees below zero in isolated sections of the upper Midwest and to minus 30 degrees in parts of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and upstate New York, the forecaster said.
In those kind of conditions, frostbite could affect exposed skin in as little as 20 minutes, warned Jon Hitchcock, spokesman for the National Weather Service in Buffalo, New York.
Buffalo City Mission, a 200-bed homeless shelter, added 25 percent more beds and used a van to search for homeless people sleeping beneath city bridges, in parks or on trains and bring them in from the cold, said security guard Joe Trimper.
"The coldest morning is actually going to be tomorrow, Wednesday. It's going to be a few degrees cooler but the winds won't be as bad. It's kind of a zero sum game there," Sowko said.
The area will remain in winter's icy grip until the end of the week, when a snowstorm was predicted to move up the Ohio Valley and through the Northeast, bringing slightly warmer temperatures and a few inches of snow to New York, Boston and possibly Washington, D.C., Sowko said.
Additional reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Neale Gulley in Buffalo; Editing by Marguerita Choy, David Gregorio and Bob Burgdorfer