Powerful, warm winds gusting to 137 mph yesterday wrecked homes and businesses in Colorado while persistent Siberian cold dropped temperatures to all-time lows in parts of the Midwest.

The death toll reached 263 in more than a week of harsh winter weather. Colorado's high winds damaged 40 percent of Boulder's homes and businesses and injured 15 persons. Most of the victims suffered cuts from flying glass.

Milwaukee, at 26 degrees below zero, suffered its coldest day since the weather service started keeping records 111 years ago as temperatures fell below zero from Dixie to New England.

It was so cold in Embarrass, Minn., that the thermometer broke at 44 degrees below zero and the local weather watcher could only estimate the temperature at minus 52. International Falls, Minn., had an official reading of 45 below zero.

The mercury dipped to 22 below at Akron, Ohio, breaking the record of minus 21 set in 1963.

In Chicago, where it was 23 below, Mayor Jane Byrne ordered the city parks department to open all fieldhouses as emergency shelters.

In New York City, where it was a relatively mild 1 below, city officials got 2,300 complaints yesterday morning from apartment dwellers with no heat.

In Michigan, where up to 15 inches of snow fell over the weekend, several highways were closed.

The weather service reported that since the first day of 1982, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., has had only one day without a snowfall and the 53.8 inches so far is the biggest accumulation of any January on record.

Drifting snow in Iowa halted snowplows during the night and one highway in the eastern part of the state was closed. "They say there's no place to push the snow any more," said Merle Schneider, a radio operator for the Iowa State Patrol.

But in Colorado, it was like someone turned on a giant blow dryer as the warm "chinook" winds howled out of the canyons on the eastern slopes of the Rockies with destructive hurricane force.

In Loveland, 60 miles north of Denver, two small mobile homes were knocked off their foundations and three others, along with two houses, were seriously damaged.

"On my way to work, I was driving a great big Buick and it was rocking like a boat on the ocean," said Boulder police employe Beverly Crosky. "The wind was blowing the dirt and stuff across the road, along with all kinds of good size rocks. It was almost like a meteor shower."

The high winds, which warmed Denver from 22 degrees at 1 a.m. to 56 degrees at 4:30 a.m., also flipped over four single-engine planes at Boulder Airport and left one Boulder County sheriff's deputy with minor injuries when the windshield of his car blew out.

"The winds are stronger than any we've heard of around here in the past 10 years," said weather service forecaster Jim Schultz in Denver.