Image: Cold commuter in Tulsa
Christopher Smith  /  The Tulsa World via AP
Ildelisa Recinos, a Tulsa Community College employee, walks to work in freezing temperatures on Thursday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/10/2011 2:56:20 PM ET 2011-02-10T19:56:20

An icy blast tugged temperatures well below zero in a large swath of the South on Thursday, setting records for cold by late morning.

Forecasters had predicted lows of minus 11 degrees in northwest Arkansas and minus 10 degrees in parts of Oklahoma. But temperatures instead dipped to minus 18 in Fayetteville and to minus 28 in Bartlesville, Okla.

Nowata, Okla., recorded 31 degrees below zero — setting a new record low for the state. The previous lowest temperature in Oklahoma history was 27 below in 1930 and 1905, said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

"We just had a very cold arctic air mass and a heavy snow pack and that allowed the temperatures to plummet when the wind died down," said McManus. "We got much colder temperatures than anyone thought would occur."

"We just had a very cold arctic air mass and a heavy snow pack and that allowed the temperatures to plummet when the wind died down," said McManus. "We got much colder temperatures than anyone thought would occur."

But states hit by the cold are expecting a thaw soon. McManus said temperatures in Oklahoma should rise to the 60s over the weekend and the 70s next week.

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The wheat crops in both states were protected by a blanket of insulating snow, but the deep freeze increased stress on livestock, especially feedlot cattle.

In an area of the nation unaccustomed to such snow and subzero temperatures, the freeze had cattlemen such as Paul Marinoni crossing their fingers that pregnant cows won't give birth during the coldest hours. The newborns could stick to the ground, much like tongues on a flagpole, and die, Marinoni said.

"How do you prevent it?" Marinoni, 70, said from his farm outside Fayetteville. "You can't."

Marinoni said he leaves the cows out overnight because they're too messy to stay inside a barn. Even before the temperatures dipped to well below zero, some cows had collected fins of icicles down their backs as the snow.

"There ain't no way to keep them warm," he added.

"Minus 17 with about 20 inches of snow," he said of the conditions Thursday morning. "I've never seen anything like it."

Marinoni eventually made it out to his cattle and found that all 70 had survived and none had given birth. But he said none of his three new tractors would start.

The frigid temperatures followed a powerful blizzard that howled through the nation's midsection Wednesday and made its way into the Deep South, where it brought a mix of rain and snow to some areas.

More than 1,200 flights were canceled due to the storm Wednesday, according to the tracking service FlightAware.com.

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The heaviest snow Wednesday was concentrated in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, where the towns of Colcord and Spavinaw got 22 and 23 inches, respectively. The deepest snow was reported near the village of Jay, with 25 inches.

Three people, including a mother and her infant, died in traffic accidents Wednesday along a snow-covered highway in Arkansas, and another woman was killed when she lost control of her vehicle in Springfield, Mo.

A van carrying prisoners skidded on ice and crashed on a highway in eastern Oklahoma on Thursday, injuring two prisoners. Blowing snow brought traffic to a halt in some areas and abandoned cars choked major highways after some drivers gave up and walked away.

The fresh snow was especially troublesome in Tulsa, Okla., where many roads were still impassable from last week's record 14-inch snowfall. The previous storm kept students out of school for at least six days. Mail, bus and trash service were only recently restored.

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Five more inches of snow fell Wednesday in Tulsa, according to the National Weather Service. That raised the city's total for the winter to 25.9 inches, breaking the previous seasonal record of 25.6 inches, set during the winter of 1923-24.

Elsewhere in Oklahoma, ranchers struggled to keep their herds well fed and hydrated. Danny Engelman spent hours tending to some 300 cows.

"If the temperatures get down to zero, with wind chills of 20 below zero, you've got a good chance of losing a calf," Engelman said. "Sometimes you've got to put them in the pickup and get some heat on them."

Most ranchers prepare for winter storms by giving their cattle the right food to build up their energy reserves.

"If their belly is filled with high-protein feed, they can withstand incredible cold," Engelman said.

Story: 'Rude awakening' for central U.S.: 2 blizzards in a week

Meanwhile, poultry farmers will burn a lot of propane in the next few days trying to heat their chicken houses, said Dustan Clark, an Extension Service poultry veterinarian at the University of Arkansas.

"It's a balancing act — ventilating the house to keep it from getting too damp, bringing in the cold air, and heating it to keep it from getting too cold," he said.

In the Northeast, the Weather Channel reported that cold air blowing across Lake Ontario would result in a "fairly strong band of lake-effect snow" across western New York between Watertown and Syracuse Thursday. It said this could potentially bring one to two feet of snow by the evening.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Blizzard reaches snow-weary states

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  1. Hayley Smyers, 14, and Olivia Lutes, 3, make snow angels in Hutchinson, Kan. while sledding on Feb. 9. (Travis Morisse / The Hutchinson News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A vehicle sits on a bridge abutment after sliding off an ice and snow covered section of a road in Norman, Okla. on Wednesday. The SUV later toppled onto its roof to the creek below. No injuries were reported. (Jerry Laizure / The Norman Transcript via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. James Harvey and Nikkie Davis walk to work after sitting in rush hour traffic in Nashville on Wednesday. Traffic crawled in all directions along Nashville's interstates. (Shelley Mays / The Tennessean via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A person tries to dig out near Grove, Okla. on Wednesday, Feb. 9. Another powerful blizzard howled through the nation's midsection, piling up to 2 feet of new snow on parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas still struggling to clean up from last week's epic storm. (Tom Gilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Tulsa University student Kate Stuppy trudges through the snow as she walks south along Delaware at Fifth Street to get a free breakfast on campus in Tulsa, Okla., on Feb. 9. (Michael Wyke / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Morning snow on top of already icy roads created numerous traffic problems around Springfield, Mo., Feb. 9. No one was hurt in this roll over. (Dean Curtis / Springfield News-Leader via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Workers clear snow off of a pier at Arrowhead arena at South Grand Lake, Okla., Feb. 9. (Tom Gilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A stuck car gets a successful push during rush hour in Tulsa, Okla., Feb. 9. Tulsa had nearly six inches of snow by midday, and more than two feet of snow was reported in parts of northeast Oklahoma. (Michael Wyke / The Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Cattle nuzzle each other as they become coated in snow in Springfield, Mo., Feb. 9. (Dean Curtis / Springfield News-Leader via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Scott McMurry removes snow from the sidewalk at the Garfield County Courthouse in Enid, Okla., Feb. 9. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Caroline Wilson keeps her ears warm as snow begins falling in Oxford, Miss., Feb. 9. (Bruce Newman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Ground crews clear the apron of snow around an American Airlines plane at Tulsa International Airport Feb. 9. (Mike Simons / The Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Emergency personnel work a multivehicle accident at Interstate 40 and Avondale in Amarillo, Texas, Feb. 9. A semi-truck jack-knifed, blocking all westbound lanes. The storm dumped more than six inches of snow on the Texas Panhandle. (Michael Schumacher / Amarillo Globe-News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Postman Rick Langkford delivers mail in Tulsa, Okla., Feb. 9. (Tom Gilbert / The Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Snow accumulates on a statue of former U.S. Sen. J. William Fullbright at the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville on Feb. 9. The state got a lot more snow Wednesday than forecasters had predicted. (Beth Hall / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A dock is submerged in South Grand Lake, Okla., Feb. 9 (Tom Gilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Hayley Smyers, Olivia Lutes
    Travis Morisse / The Hutchinson News via AP
    Above: Slideshow (16) Snow hits central U.S.
  2. Image:
    Eric Gay / AP
    Slideshow (45) Images from last week's blizzard

Video: Storm wallops winter-weary Midwest

  1. Closed captioning of: Storm wallops winter-weary Midwest

    >>> the winner of our discontent continues tonight with texas, oklahoma, kansas, arkansas, right there in the middle of it. up to two feet of snow have fallen in the region today. parts of oklahoma have set all-time records for snowfall. temperatures are 25 degrees below normal. schools, airports, government offices, businesses all closed and blowing snow made driving absolutely impossible in some places. and remember these are a lot of places not used to conditions like this.

Vote: Vote: Is this the worst winter you can recall?

Map: Storms wreak havoc