IOWA CITY, IA — A University of Iowa student found dead near a campus building early Wednesday morning may have died of exposure as a deadly polar vortex bears down on Iowa and much of the nation’s midsection. The student, pre-med major Gerald Belz, of Cedar Rapids, was unresponsive when campus police found him about 2:48 a.m.
His death brings to seven the number of people who have died in the brutal cold snap, created by a swirling mass of cold air that swept into the Upper Midwest from the Arctic. The extreme cold is shattering records that have stood for 20 years or more across Iowa and other Midwest states.
Belz was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died, according to a report in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The temperature was around minus 22 degrees at the time, and the wind chill was around minus 51.
Officials haven’t released a cause of death or the University of Iowa student’s age. An investigation is ongoing, but police don’t suspect foul play.
The student was found near a fitness center adjacent to Hasley Hall, the newspaper said.
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The others of who have died include a man who was struck and killed by a snow plow in the Chicago area, a Detroit man found frozen and dead in front of a neighbor’s home, another Michigan man found outside in suburban Ecorse without a hat or gloves, a young couple from Indiana whose SUV struck another on a snowy road, and a Milwaukee man found frozen to death in his garage.
At temperatures like Iowa experienced Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, hypothermia can develop in as little as 10 minutes if a person isn’t wearing adequate outerwear or has skin exposed — especially the scalp, hands, fingers or face.
The life-threatening polar vortex is causing misery across the nation’s midsection. Schools and universities across Iowa and the Midwest canceled classes Wednesday and some won’t resume until Friday. Businesses across the region told employees to stay home, and the U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery in parts of about a dozen states, including Iowa. Thousands of flights were canceled.
The National Weather Service even warned people not to talk when they’re outside if they don’t have to.
“Make sure your mouth is covered to protect your lungs from severely cold air,” the agency said. “Avoid taking deep breaths; minimize talking.”
Thursday won’t be as cold, but temperatures will still struggle to make it above zero in much of the affected region. The extreme cold is expected to exit later this week, but weather experts say the polar vortex could return for another round of brutal weather before the end of February.
Photo: A satellite handout image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the entry of a large area of low pressure from the polar vortex into the northern U.S. The weather system is bringing dangerously cold temperatures not seen in half of the continental United States in about 20 years. It is expected to move northward back over Canada toward the end of the week. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)