LIRR worker John Unger wore two scarves, a pair of...

LIRR worker John Unger wore two scarves, a pair of gloves and his LIRR knit cap to deal with biting cold Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Craig Schneider

Reuben Desir has been professionally trained to confront the cold.

So as the UPS delivery worker went about his rounds Thursday, he kept his chin up and the rest of himself covered in multiple layers of clothing.

"Five on top, three on bottom," said Desir, 32, of Hempstead, describing the mix of shirts, sweaters and undergarments under his brown uniform.

His favorite instruction from his employer dealt with how to traverse slippery surfaces: "They tell us to walk like a duck."

Few Long Islanders have such professional training but everyone had their own way of handling Thursday's brand of bitter cold, which bit and stung and got under the skin and stayed there. Venturing outside, people moved fast, wasted little time and all but mummified their bodies in winter gear.

John Unger, an LIRR worker, just had to take a break from his outdoor work watching over contractors upgrading the Farmingdale train station. So he came inside to thaw out, sitting for a moment in the heated waiting room.

"You're out there and it's biting your skin," said Unger, 51, of Sayville. "Your eyes tear up."

After a few minutes he bundled up with two scarves, a pair of gloves and his LIRR knit cap and headed back into the elements.

"It is what it is," he said, throwing up his hands. "This is the job I chose."

Extreme cold gripped much of the country as a polar vortex swept across the continent. A polar vortex is a circulation of winds that normally surround the northern pole but sometimes dip much farther south. Arctic cold swept over the Midwest, forcing the closure of roads, schools and state offices. 

In Chicago, where temperatures reached minus-20 degrees, officials set railroad tracks on fire to prevent the cold from damaging them.

On Long Island, temperatures took a kamikaze nose-dive Thursday, bringing subzero wind chills. The temperatures looked like the final score at a preschool basketball game: Shirley, 4; East Hampton, 6.

For all the hemming and hawing about the weather, Kathryn Smith, 65, of Smithtown, said she refused to be a "Debbie Downer."

"I'm up and out," said Smith, who wore a sweater under her jacket and boots as she sauntered into the Walt Whitman Shops Mall in South Huntington, anticipating lunch with a friend. "It's not preventing me from doing anything."

She added, "I'm not going to complain about the weather, especially when I see how bad it is elsewhere in the country. It's not Chicago."

Smith also pointed to weather forecasts that say Friday will offer a bit of relief, with temperatures rising into the teens, and the weekend offering temperatures in the 30s on Saturday and 40s on Sunday.

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