Nightly News   |  January 06, 2010

Arctic blast leaves millions in deep freeze

Jan. 6: An unusually slow-moving cold front has 32 states bracing for extreme winter weather conditions. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

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>>> good evening. tonight our friends at the weather channel tell us this next wave of winter weather is not your average air mass . before it's all over, it will impact an estimated 180 million americans. that's over 60% of the people in this country. there are advisories posted tonight in 27 out of the 50 states . out and out weather warnings in 16 states. it takes up a huge area, and while we get it, it is january, forecasters warn this system will still be a shock to a lot of folks. nbc's janet shamly leaves off our coverage from kansas city , missouri.

>> reporter: good evening. the majority of people in this country are seeing and feeling temperatures they are not used to. in kansas city , it is among the coldest cities in the nation tonight. there is plenty of this weather to go around. it is winter after all.

>> a lot of clothing. warm thermals.

>> reporter: this year's scope and duration of this arctic blast may redefine a mean season. from kansas city , where temperatures in the teens closed hundreds of schools.

>> today i didn't want to go through all the traffic, but thought it would be worth it to come here and go down the hill a few times.

>> reporter: to jerome that where 280 was deemed too dangerous to drive. 32 states are under winter warnings or watches. in the midwest, the breadbasket is now an ice box . not even the south is immune.

>> i'm tan trung in atlanta. traffic snarls as crews rush to repair the damage.

>> we are seeing about six times as many breaks this week as we do in the summer.

>> reporter: officials anticipate more problems as the week goes on.

>> reporter: i'm kerry sanders in plant city , florida, where it's all about the agriculture. there is a $365 million unpicked strawberry crop and a billion dollars worth of sit ris yet to be harvested. farmers say the 28-degree temperatures early this morning caused less than a 5% damage to that unpicked fruit, but their real concern is the coming freezes the next few days.

>> reporter: the deep freeze is a slow-mover. some cities won't get above freezing until next week.

>> we have cold air every winter. this is unique dawe of the duration. some areas of the country haven't been this cold in some 10, 15 years.

>> reporter: in st. charles parish, louisiana, weeks of rain and cold mean headache to farmers who lost nearly 50 calfs to malnutrition. for others, 38 degrees sounded perfect for a swim.

>> we do it every year on the coldest day of the year. it don't get much colder than today.

>> reporter: proof of that up and down the mighty mississippi carved into cubes of ice. and up next, what's called a clipper snowstorm with more heavy snow and freeze warnings forecast from here to chicago.

>> janet shamlian , thanks.

>>> we turn to the subject