Bitter cold tests winter-wise, delivers a shock to the South

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Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS

Bitterly cold weather gripped much of the nation Tuesday, testing the mettle of even winter-wise northerners and delivering a shock to those accustomed to far milder weather in the South.

The cold has been blamed for at least a dozen deaths, prompted officials to open warming centers in the Deep South and triggered pleas from government officials to check on neighbors, especially those who are elderly, sick or who live alone.

In St. Louis, where temperatures dipped 30 degrees below normal, Mayor Lyda Krewson warned it was “dangerously cold.”

“It’s important that people look out for anyone in need of shelter,” she said.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories and freeze warnings covering a vast area, from South Texas to Canada and from Montana to Maine. The arctic blast was blamed for freezing a water tower in Iowa, halting a ferry service in New York and even trapping a swan in a Virginia pond.

At the same time, a heatwave swept into the country’s northernmost state: Anchorage, Alaska, tied a record high Tuesday of 44 degrees – at the same time Jacksonville, Fla., was a mere 38 degrees.

Indianapolis Public Schools canceled classes after the city tied a record low for the day – set in 1887 – of 12 degrees below zero. The northwest Indiana city of Lafayette got down to 19 below, shattering the previous record set in 1979. Many local residents noticed a hum, which Duke Energy said was caused by extra power surging through utility lines to meet electricity demands.

Although temperatures have been lower in Indiana – the all-time low was 36 below zero in 1994 – the current frigid weather is unusual because of how long it’s lasted, experts said.

“It has just been relentlessly cold since Christmas,” said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private Weather Underground.

And it’s nothing to trifle with, forecasters warned.

The cold has been blamed in at least 12 deaths in the past week. Police in St. Louis said a 54-year-old homeless man found dead in a trash bin Monday evening apparently froze to death as the temperature dropped to 6 degrees below zero.

Two other suspected cold-related deaths occurred in Wisconsin: a 27-year-old woman’s body was found Monday evening on the shore of Lake Winnebago, and a 57-year-old man was found dead Sunday in a parking structure in Madison.

With Chicago-area wind chills expected as low as 35 below zero, forecasters warned of frostbite and hypothermia risks. They urged residents to take precautions, including dressing in layers, wearing a hat and gloves, covering exposed skin and bringing pets indoors.

“You thought you were cold last year. You thought you were cold last month. But you weren’t cold. Now you’re cold,” said Jeanne Rivera, of Crystal Lake, Ill., who was in Chicago on Tuesday to visit an art exhibit. “It hurts. It hurts the face.”

In Tennessee, corrections officials at a maximum-security prison used portable heaters and extra blankets to keep inmates and employees warm after the facility lost hot water pressure Monday, causing its boiler to go offline. A spokeswoman didn’t provide a timeline for its return.

In Texas, advocates for the homeless fanned out Tuesday across Houston to provide blankets and other warm gear as the National Weather Service issued a hard freeze warning until Wednesday for parts of the state.

Atlanta hospitals were seeing a surge in emergency room visits for hypothermia and other ailments as temperatures plunged below freezing. The temperature in Atlanta fell to 13 below before dawn Tuesday.

“We have a group of patients who are coming in off the street who are looking to escape the cold – we have dozens and dozens of those every day,” said Dr. Brooks Moore, associate medical director in the emergency department of Grady Health System, which operates Georgia’s largest hospital in Atlanta.

Warming shelters opened amid freeze watches and warnings in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

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