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Subzero wind chill readings stretched as far south as Georgia and Alabama on Thursday as cities all over the eastern half of the country flirted with record low temperatures in the most punishing blast of arctic air this season.

At 6 a.m. ET, it felt like 2 degrees below zero in Birmingham, Alabama, and zero in Atlanta. It felt like 7 below in Roanoke, Virginia, and just below freezing in Orlando, Florida. The wind chills in the Midwest and Northeast were downright brutal — 25 below in Madison, Wisconsin, and 36 below in Caribou, Maine.

Cold alerts covered almost the entire country east of the Mississippi River, more than 180 million people in all. Schools in Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee and Indianapolis told students to stay home.

Expected highs for the actual air temperature were not much more promising: Forecasters said the mercury would only climb to 34 in Atlanta, or 17 degrees below normal, and 14 in Chicago.

Adding to the misery, lake-effect snow was falling in scattered places around the Great Lakes. By Friday night, some cities on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan and around Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, could get a foot and a half.

Three people were killed on Wednesday night in an 18-car pileup in whiteout conditions on a Pennsylvania interstate.


— Erin McClam with The Associated Press and Reuters