US suffers big freeze not seen for a century

Bone-chilling cold gripped much of the United States as 2018 began, breaking century-old records and leading to several deaths.

Bone-chilling cold gripped much of the United States as 2018 began, breaking century-old records and leading to several deaths that authorities attributed to exposure to the dangerously low temperatures.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories and freeze warnings yesterday covering a vast area from South Texas to Canada and from Montana through New England. Authorities opened warming shelters in the South as temperatures dipped notably close to zero in Alabama and Georgia.

The bitter cold wave enveloped much of the Midwest on Monday, yet that didn’t deter hundreds of people from ringing in the new year by jumping into Lake Michigan.

Throngs of people took part in the Polar Plunge in Milwaukee, despite sub-freezing temperatures and a warning of potential hypothermia from the local fire chief.

Organizers canceled a similar event on the Chicago lakefront, after the temperature there dipped below zero and thick white steam rose from the lake. Organizers said the arctic blast made jumping into the lake too dangerous.

An annual New Year’s Day water ski show on Pigeon Lake in western Michigan was canceled for the first time since the event was launched in 1980 because the water was frozen solid.

Temperatures plunged below zero elsewhere in the Midwest, including in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where the mercury dropped to a record-breaking minus 36 degrees Celsius. The city’s previous New Year’s Day record had stood for 99 years.

In Nebraska, temperatures hit 26 degrees below zero before midnight on Sunday in Omaha, breaking a record low dating to 1884. Omaha officials cited the forecast in postponing the 18th annual New Year’s Eve Fireworks Spectacular that draws around 30,000 people.

It was colder in Des Moines, Iowa, where city officials closed a downtown outdoor ice skating plaza and said it wouldn’t reopen until the city emerged from sub-zero temperatures.

The weather service said temperatures in Indianapolis early yesterday tied a record low of minus 24 degrees for January 2 set in 1887.

In northeastern Montana, the wind chill readings dipped as low as minus 50 degrees. And in Duluth, Minnesota, a city known for its bitter cold winters, the wind chill dipped to minus 38 degrees.

Plunging overnight temperatures in Texas brought rare snow flurries as far south as Austin, and accidents racked up on icy roads across the state. In the central Texas city of Abilene, the local police chief said more than three dozen vehicle crashes were reported in 24 hours.

It was even cold in the Deep South, as temperatures plummeted early yesterday to minus 10 degrees in Atlanta and minus 3 degrees as far south as New Orleans.

Georgia saw one of its coldest temperatures of the winter. Warming shelters were opened across the South as freeze watches and warnings blanketed the region, including hard freeze warnings for much of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The cold has been attributed in at least eight deaths in the past week. Most recently, sheriff’s officials in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, said a 27-year-old woman whose body was found on Monday on the shore of Lake Winnebago had likely died of exposure.

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