Nightly News   |  December 04, 2013

Big chill to impact millions across US

Millions of Americans are living in regions of the country under a severe cold spell. From whirling snow to icy rain, the freeze is even threatening a billion dollar crop industry in California. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

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>>> good evening. if you're watching us from the dallas-ft. worth area in texas tonight you can be prepared to watch temperatures drop 40 degrees in just about 24 hours . if you're to the east of there, this may be a preview of what to expect. if you live where it's warm, you will be the envy of the rest of the nation over the next few days as a big cold and crawling weather system is about to cause a lot of trouble as the weather is apt to do when winter takes hold. it's already bad in the rockies and we'll begin there with nbc's miguel almaguer in denver . good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening. it never rose above 10 degrees in denver today. early this morning with the wind chill it felt like negative 10. bone-chilling temperatures. although it was bad here there are other sections of the country that have it even worse . from whiteouts to wipeouts, the big chill impacting 33 million americans is bringing a brutal mix of snow, ice and sub zero temperatures to 27 states. near duluth, minnesota, nearly three feet of snow in two days.

>> it's going to be a white christmas .

>> reporter: the arctic blast burying cars. conditions like these on the roads claiming at least six lives. by friday, it could be 20 degrees below zero .

>> if you're going to stay home and wait for it to warm up, you will be here in june.

>> reporter: tonight states from california to mississippi to kentucky are bracing for pockets of record cold.

>> we haven't seen anything like this for a while, this early in the season.

>> reporter: across much of the west, temperatures could plummet 40 degrees below normal. in denver it went from nearly 60 degrees to 6 in one day. perfect for the polar bear at the zoo. not so ideal for this snow plow .

>> icy snow-packed roads.

>> reporter: with an army of plows working around the clock in the denver region it is all hands on deck to keep the roads clear for the evening commute. in utah, the freeway is a nightmare. more than 300 accidents today alone. in minnesota, at least 175 crashes since midnight. the deep freeze sven crippling california's citrus crop .

>> they will go bitter on you fairly fast if they are frozen hard.

>> reporter: 85% of the fruit in this multi billion dollar industry is still on the tree. they could lose it all in an overnight freeze.

>> worst case scenario , we'll lose about $2 billion worth of product. we'll have unemployment totaling somewhere around 15,000 people.

>> reporter: a winter blast battering half the country and tonight threatening to paralyze even more of the nation. across this region, warming centers are opening for folks who don't have heating. police are doing door knocks on the elderly to check on their welfare. brian, it's only going to get colder.

>> miguel almaguer starting us off from denver tonight. thanks. weather