U.S. South, East brace for dangerous polar air as Midwest slowly starts to step out of freezer
Rick Callahan, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, January 7, 2014 6:43AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 7, 2014 10:50AM EST
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
INDIANAPOLIS -- Frigid air that snapped decades-old records will make venturing outside dangerous for a second straight day Tuesday, this time spreading to southern and eastern parts of the U.S. and keeping many schools and businesses shuttered. Residents driven from their homes by power outages in the Midwest longed to return to their own beds.
Monday's subzero temperatures broke records for the date in Chicago, at minus 16, and Fort Wayne, Ind., where the mercury fell to 13 below. Records also fell in Oklahoma and Texas, and wind chills across the region were 40 below and colder. Officials in Indiana, already struggling with high winds and more than a foot of snow, urged residents to stay home.
"The cold is the real killer here," Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said Monday as he asked schools and businesses to remain closed for another day. "In 10 minutes you could be dead without the proper clothes."
The polar air started to invade the East and South on Tuesday.
Temperatures plunged to 8 degrees in Atlanta and 6 degrees below zero at a remote weather station in the north Georgia mountains -- the coldest temperatures in the state for years. Temperatures hit lows in parts of West Virginia not felt for 25 years, while the extreme cold in Virginia beat record lows that had stood since the late 1950s. The National Weather Service said the mercury bottomed out at 3 degrees before sunrise at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshal International Airport, with a wind chill of minus 16.
Highs in the single digits were expected in Georgia and Alabama, and wind chill warnings stretched as far south as Florida.
In downtown Louisville, Ky., where wind chills dropped to 22 below zero Monday, John Tyler gathered with friends at a McDonald's. The self-described homeless man spent Sunday night sleeping on the street.
Dressed in a sweatshirt, two coats and a black woolen cap, Tyler said there's no way to adequately prepare for this kind of cold.
"How we're dealing with it? You can't deal with it," Tyler said. "There's no way you can deal with it."
Forecasters said some 187 million people in all could feel the effects of the "polar vortex" -- a dangerous blast of polar air -- by the time it spreads across the country. Tennessee utility officials braced for near-record power demand, while Ohio prepared for its coldest temperatures in decades.
PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid supplying energy to more than 61 million people in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and South, asked users to conserve electricity Tuesday because of the cold, especially in the morning and late afternoon.
Meanwhile, recovery was the focus in several Midwestern states. The subzero cold followed inches of snow and high winds that made travelling treacherous and was blamed for numerous deaths in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence issued disaster declarations, paving the way to request federal aid.
At least 15,000 customers in Indiana were without power early Tuesday. Utility crews worked to restore service as temperatures plunged into the negative teens, but officials warned that some customers could be in the cold and dark for days.
"My kids are ready to go home, and I'm ready too," said 41-year-old Timolyn Johnson-Fitzgerald, of Indianapolis, who faced a second night sleeping on cots at a Red Cross shelter with her three children, ages 11, 15, and 18.
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, travelling from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Quincy, Ill., would reach their destination either by train or bus later Tuesday.
Bob Oravec, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Md., said the blast of frigid air raised concerns that roads wet from melted snow would freeze over.
"In Maryland, we lost a lot of the snowpack and a lot of water is draining off, and the temperatures are dropping fast," Oravec said.
But there were signs of a return to normal.
JetBlue Airways, which stopped all scheduled flights to and from New York and Boston on Monday, planned to resume some flights Tuesday morning, and some Southwest Airlines operations in Chicago resumed Monday night.
The Minnesota Zoo announced it would reopen to the public Tuesday. State lawmakers in Indiana planned to kick off their 2014 legislative session after a day's postponement.
And warmer temperatures -- at least, near or above freezing -- were forecast for the Midwest. Indianapolis should reach 27 degrees on Wednesday, and other cities in the region could climb above freezing later in the week.
Even International Falls, Minn., had something to look forward to. Wind chills dropped as low as -55 Monday, but were expected to rebound to 25 below Tuesday. By Friday, the low was expected to be 5 to 10 above zero, Oravec said.
Until then, take advice for dealing with frostbite- and hypothermia-inducing cold from Anthony Bickham in St. Paul, Minn., who jumped around while waiting for the bus Monday.
"You gotta keep it moving," Bickham said. "Stay warm at ... all costs, you know."