Arctic blast heads east and south after pummeling the Midwest

Freeze and hard freeze warnings are in effect for Wednesday as far south as the Texas and South Carolina coasts.

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By Minyvonne Burke and Alex Johnson

The arctic blast of snow and ice that killed at least four people and caused highway pileups involving dozens of vehicles on highways across the Midwest took aim at the East and the South, where more record and near-record low temperatures were forecast for Wednesday.

As many as 50 vehicles, many of them large commercial trucks, were involved in a crash Tuesday morning on Interstate 80 near Austintown, Ohio, the state Highway Patrol said. Two people were confirmed to have been critically injured in the crash, which occurred as snow piled up in Austintown, where the low temperature of 16 degrees broke the record of 19 for Nov. 12, which was set in 1950.

Traffic didn't resume on the interstate until almost 12 hours later Tuesday night.

Five people were treated for minor injuries Tuesday morning after almost 90 vehicles were involved in a chain accident on State Route 8 in Peninsula, Ohio, about 20 miles southeast of Cleveland, NBC affiliate WKYC of Cleveland reported. The low temperature of 15 degrees tied the record for the date.

Lows were smashed in other parts of the Midwest: minus-6 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; 6 degrees in Oshkosh, Wisconsin; 7 degrees in Chicago; and 8 degrees in Indianapolis and in Wichita, Kansas.

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A woman walks past PNC Park during a morning snow in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.Gene J. Puskar / AP

The conditions were blamed for at least four roadway deaths Monday. A 57-year-old man and two women, ages 64 and 81, died in a two-car crash outside Lansing, Michigan, and an 8-year-old girl was killed and three other people were injured in a head-on collision south of Kansas City, Kansas, authorities said.

In Ohio, authorities were investigating whether snow and ice contributed to two fatal wrecks Tuesday, one on the Ohio Turnpike in Richfield and another in Clark County.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted on Tuesday that all of the city's warming centers would be open "due to extreme weather conditions."

Forecasters said the unseasonal chill was caused by an arctic air mass moving from the Rocky Mountains to northern New England.

The National Weather Service forecast record lows into the teens in hundreds of locations across the central and eastern parts of the country on Wednesday. Freeze and hard freeze warnings were in effect as far south as the Texas and South Carolina coasts.

Elizabeth Montemayor, coordinator of the Hilltop Community Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, said the center would be one of several warming centers open all night in the region, offering cots and blankets.

"We don't want anyone to spend a cold night when we have these centers available for them," Montemayor told NBC affiliate KRIS of Corpus Christi.

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Snow had been predicted for New York City on Tuesday, but it largely failed to show as the forecast for Wednesday brightened throughout the day. By late Tuesday, the weather service — which earlier had predicted lows just above 20 — was predicting sunny conditions with temperatures in the mid-30s on Wednesday.