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Biting cold blows from Midwest to Northeast

Arctic air extended its grip Wednesday with below-zero temperatures stretching from Montana to northern New England and frost nipping the Gulf Coast.
Winter Weather
Traffic moves slowly along Ohio Highway 315 as the snow accumulates on Wednesday in Columbus.Kiichiro Sato / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The cold wave that stunned the nation's midsection expanded into the Northeast on Wednesday with subzero temperatures and biting wind that kept even some winter sports fans at home.

The wind chill hit 33 below zero during the night at Massena, N.Y., and the National Weather Service predicted actual temperatures nearly that low in parts of the region by Thursday night. The weather service said Flint, Mich., set a record low early Wednesday at 19 degrees below zero.

Forecasters also issued a lake effect snow warning Wednesday night for southwest Michigan, where a foot of snow or more could fall.

Winter-hardened people across northern New England bundled up amid warnings about how fast exposed skin can freeze.

Frostbite caution sign
"Anyone who sends their kid out today is out of the running for parent of the year," said Eric Friedman, a spokesman for Mad River Glen ski area in Fayston, Vt. A frostbite caution sign was posted at the ticket office, but few skiers were there to see it because of the 5-below-zero cold, Friedman said.

Schools from Iowa to North Carolina opened late so kids would not have to be out in the coldest part of the morning. Some schools closed altogether.

"Awful," said University of Dayton student Lauren Weining, who put on two pairs of pants and three sweaters under her coat for a 10-minute walk to her job on the Ohio school's campus. "It's the longest 10 minutes I ever had this year."

No deaths were reported in the Northeast, but snowy conditions caused a 14-car crash Wednesday on Interstate 75 in Ohio and a truck trying to avoid the wreckage slammed into a car, killing the car's 55-year-old driver, said Tipp City patrolman Greg Adkins.

Also on Wednesday, two men died in a 20-vehicle pileup in near-blizzard conditions on the Indiana Toll Road.

A day earlier, a Wisconsin man died of exposure after wandering from his home; relatives said he was prone to sleepwalking. Poor visibility in blowing snow was blamed for a 20-car pileup that killed two people Wednesday in Indiana.

Snow also cut visibility in Chicago, where airlines canceled around 250 flights Wednesday afternoon at O'Hare International Airport.

NBC News reported that Wednesday was the ninth consecutive day of measurable snowfall in Chicago, a new record for most consecutive days of snow since recording began in 1884. The previous record was eight consecutive days from Dec. 13-20, 1973.

Road salt no help
In New York, where light snow was forecast and overnight lows Thursday near Albany were expected to be around minus 10, the frigid conditions caused complications for highway managers because road salt doesn't melt ice in subzero temperatures.

"Once we get into minus 10, minus 20, in some cases we have to go to just straight sand, a light dusting of sand, on the highway to get some grit, provide some traction," said Mike Flick of the state Transportation Department in Pamelia.

Mercifully, no major precipitation was forecast for New England. Parts of the region are still recovering from a Dec. 11 ice storm that tore down trees and power lines, cutting electricity to about 1 million homes and businesses in the Northeast — some for more than a week.

This was just arctic cold, the kind that numbs the face, kills car batteries and freezes unguarded water pipes. Residents of Ironwood, Mich., were told to keep faucets running to prevent freeze-ups after a major break left the city without water, said Gogebic County emergency services coordinator Jim Loeper.

"It slows you down a little bit. Your body doesn't move as fast as it should," said Shane West, 35, a roofer working on a house in Montpelier in 2-below cold. "Even for us, it can become a problem sometimes," he said, referring to Vermonters accustomed to cold weather.

A temperature around zero didn't faze truck driver Gary Jacobs, 49, of Barre, Vt., bundled in five layers — T-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, hooded sweatshirt and coat, in addition to snowpants, boots and a knit cap.

"People in Arizona say, 'It's a dry heat.' This is a fresh cold," Jacobs said.

But people who had a choice stayed inside — even skiers.

Night skiing canceled
Vermont's Bolton Valley ski resort, where it was 10 below Wednesday morning, canceled night skiing through Friday night for fear that skiers could freeze if they were marooned on a malfunctioning ski lift.

A couple of ski areas in northern Minnesota closed for the day because of temperatures that reached 38 below zero at International Falls, with the wind chill during the night estimated at 50 below.

Homeless shelters were busy.

"We don't want anyone out there," said Kathryn Paquette, homeless outreach specialist of Southern New Hampshire Services in Nashua, N.H., which found rooms at rooming houses, motels and shelters for dozens.

Honda Motor Co. canceled two shifts at three Ohio plants so their roughly 5,000 workers wouldn't have to risk the cold and slippery roads, spokesman Ron Lietzke said.

Maine residents braced for nighttime readings down to 40 below zero. And in the Midwest, Iowans were warned that temperatures could drop as far as 27 below zero during the night, matching a Jan. 15 record set in 1972.

Temperatures on Thursday were expected to range from 10 below zero in the far north to the low teens in southern coastal areas.

Farther south, morning temperatures were in the 20s from Texas to Georgia, and along the Gulf Coast the weather service reported a low of just 28 at Mobile, Ala.

Even northern Georgia and Kentucky could see single-digit lows by Friday, with zero possible at Lexington, Ky., the weather service warned. Kentucky hasn't been that cold since December 2004.

Farmworkers in Florida, where the service forecast Thursday night lows in the teens to lower 20s, plucked ripened berries early as a precaution. Strawberry growers near Tampa and blueberry growers around Gainesville checked irrigation pumps, ready to spray fruit with water to create a protective ice coating if needed.

But as the Gulf Coast city of Pensacola, Fla., fell to 40 degrees, Brazilian tourist Vitor Rocha wore shorts and sandals for a stroll with a friend.

"We are not disappointed in the weather today, this is something unusual for us," he said.