INDIANAPOLIS >> Frigid air that snapped decades-old records will make venturing outside dangerous for a second straight day today, 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 today.
A blizzard smothered western New York with up to 18 inches of snow and wind gusts of up to 50 mph in places. As much as 3 feet of snow could fall there by the time the storm eases Wednesday.
Temperatures meanwhile plunged to 8 degrees in Atlanta and 6 degrees below zero at a remote weather station in the north Georgia mountains — the coldest it has been there for decades. Temperatures hit lows in parts of West Virginia not felt for 25 years, while the extreme cold in Virginia beat records 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 with dangerous winds as low as 40 below expected in Ohio.
Jeffery Oldham Jr., a mechanic at a truck stop on I-70 near Hagerstown, Md., wore a camouflage cap, hunting gloves, double layers of clothing and a heavy parka. He said he was trying to go inside every 15 minutes to warm up, and that mending a fuel pump took seven or eight minutes.
“Long enough to feel like my face was going to freeze,” Oldham said, adding “It wouldn’t be too bad out if it wasn’t for the wind.”
Lynn Palmer, of Alexandria, Va., was commuting by Metro bus and train today to reach her job as an administrative officer at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. She said she bundled up in layers but still faced extreme cold while waiting for a bus.
“I could barely walk,” the lifelong Alexandria native said, describing the temperatures as the coldest she had ever experienced.
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 today 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 traveling treacherous and was blamed in 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 today. 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 trains headed for Chicago that were stranded 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., would reach Chicago either by train or bus later today.
JetBlue Airways, which stopped all scheduled flights to and from New York and Boston on Monday, planned to resume some flights this morning, and some Southwest Airlines operations in Chicago resumed Monday night.
The Minnesota Zoo announced it would reopen to the public today. 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 today. 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.”
Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis; David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md.; Brett Zongker in Washington, D.C.; Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, Ky.; and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.