Records Fall as Deep Freeze Grips Midwest, East

1:54 PM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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Jennifer Edwards Baker, Doyle Rice and John Bacon, USA TODAY

CINCINNATI - No one is more aware of record-smashing cold front sweeping much of the nation than Cassandra Lenzley.

Lenzley, a security guard, was patrolling the overnight shift outside three downtown high-rises here until 6 a.m. Tuesday. The temperature dipped to 7 below, with a wind chill of minus 26.

"It's stinging cold," Lenzley said. "Your skin burns if you are out too long. You can feel it through your clothes, and I have on three layers."

Lenzley said it was one of the most miserable nights of her life "and I'm from Michigan."

Hardy Midwesterners found the blast of Arctic cold to be far beyond anything in recent memory, breaking records and testing their ability to cope with winter's extremes. Tuesday dawned even colder as the "polar vortex'' of frigid Arctic air advances, bringing more record-breaking cold to the East and Northeast.

New Yorkers who saw temperatures above 50 degrees Monday morning saw them drop to single digits Monday night. State officials closed some roads and warned residents not to venture out.

"I am urging New Yorkers in the area to stay home today," said Governor Andrew Cuomo. "Anyone who must travel should exercise extreme caution."

At least 45 record low temperatures were set Tuesday morning in the South, East, and Midwest, according to the Weather Channel. Among them: Atlanta (6 degrees), Huntsville, Ala. (4 degrees), Knoxville, Tenn. (6), Charlotte (6), New York City (4), Baltimore (3), Philadelphia (4), Cleveland (-11), and Detroit (-14).

The weather has also brought tragedy. At least 12 deaths have been blamed on the cold front and series of snowstorms since late last week, including six in Michigan, the Weather Channel reported.

"The big story today is it's still bitter cold across the Great Lakes and the East," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines said Tuesday. "But we are already seeing moderate air pushing into North Dakota. We just gotta get through today."

That was no small order. The subzero temperatures forced school closings, kept people home from work, jammed up travel and made stepping outside a risky proposition.

Energy demand in a 13-state region from Michigan to Virginia shattered a seven-year record Monday night, drawing a rare winter call for consumer conservation. PJM, the regional transmission organization, recommended setting thermostats lower, postponing use of major appliances and turning off idle electrical devices and appliances.

Air travel, all but impossible Monday, saw a similar trend early Tuesday. More than 2,700 scheduled commercial flights were canceled by noon ET Tuesday, with another 2,700 delayed, Flightstats.com reported. On Monday, more than 5,000 flights were canceled and more than 10,000 more were seriously delayed.

More than 500 Amtrak passengers spent the night on three stopped trains headed for Chicago because of blowing and drifting snow in north-central Illinois. Spokesman Marc Magliari said all the passengers, traveling from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Quincy, Ill., had been evacuated from the trains and would reach their destinations either by train or bus later Tuesday.

On Monday, Chicago saw a record low of minus 16, and Quincy, Ill., tied a record at minus 9. Wind chills across the Midwest were 40 below and colder.

Calculating for the wind effect, Comertown, Mont., saw minus 63 and Rolla, N.D., saw minus 60 wind chills. The cold stretched into southern regions accustomed to a milder January. Waco, Texas, saw 16 degrees and Monroe, La., 19, both records.

Katie Stoll, 34, of Des Moines ventured outside Tuesday morning after staying home the day before. She treated herself to a warm cup of coffee before heading downtown to work at a financial services company.

Temperatures were expected to climb to double digits by Tuesday afternoon -- significantly warmer than Monday morning, when temperatures across Iowa were in the negative double digits and wind chills dipped to between 30 and 50 below zero.

"I just hibernated," Stoll said. "I'm already thinking about summer; that's how I get through it."

Schools were closed in Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and the entire state of Minnesota as people were warned to keep children out of the cold. Cities urged taking pets indoors.

In Kentucky, authorities say an inmate who escaped a minimum security facility in Lexington on Sunday turned himself in Monday.
Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said Robert Vick, 42, said he wanted to escape the cold. Vick was checked out by paramedics and returned to Blackburn Correctional Complex.

Steve Cochrane, director of regional economics at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pa., said the cold's economic impact will be small for the nation's economy, though it will be felt locally.

"You spend less when you are hunkered down and more later on,'' Cochrane said.

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