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Polar air brings single-digit cold to East, South

By Ray Henry
Associated Press

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ATLANTA: Fountains froze over, a 200-foot Ferris wheel in Atlanta shut down, and Southerners had to dig out winter coats, hats and gloves they almost never have to use.

The brutal polar air that has made the Midwest shiver over the past few days spread to the East and the Deep South on Tuesday, shattering records that in some cases had stood for more than a century.

The mercury plunged into the single digits and teens from Boston and New York to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Little Rock — places where many people don’t know the first thing about extreme cold.

“I didn’t think the South got this cold,” said Marty Williams, a homeless man, originally from Chicago, who took shelter at a church in Atlanta, where it hit a record low of 6 degrees. “That was the main reason for me to come down from up North, from the cold, to get away from all that stuff.”

The morning weather map for the eastern half of the U.S. looked like an algebra worksheet: lots of small, negative numbers. In fact, the Midwest and the East were colder than much of Antarctica.

In a phenomenon that forecasters said is actually not all that unusual, all 50 states saw freezing temperatures at some point Tuesday. That included Hawaii, where it was 18 degrees atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano.

‘Polar vortex’

The big chill started in the Midwest over the weekend, caused by a kink in the “polar vortex,” the strong winds that circulate around the North Pole. By Tuesday, the icy air covered about half the country, and records were shattered like icicles up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

It was 1 degree in Reading, Pa., and 2 in Trenton, N.J. New York City plummeted to 4 degrees; the old record for the date was 6, set in 1896.

Farther south, Birmingham, Ala., dipped to a low of 7, four degrees colder than the old mark, set in 1970. Huntsville, Ala., dropped to 5, Nashville, Tenn., got down to 2, and Little Rock, Ark., fell to 9. Charlotte, N.C., reached 6 degrees, breaking the 12-degree record that had stood since 1884.

The deep freeze dragged on in the Midwest as well, with the thermometer reaching minus 12 overnight in the Chicago area and 14 below in suburban St. Louis. More than 500 Amtrak passengers were stranded overnight on three Chicago-bound trains that were stopped by blowing and drifting snow in Illinois. Food ran low, but the heat stayed on.

The worst should be over in the next day or two, when the polar vortex is expected to straighten itself out. Warmer weather — that is, near or above freezing — is in the forecast for much of the stricken part of the country.

A pipe burst in an Atlanta suburb and a main road froze over. In downtown Atlanta, a Ferris wheel near Centennial Olympic Park that opened over the summer to give riders a view of the city closed because it was too cold.

In Chicago, it was too cold even for the polar bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo. While polar bears can handle below-zero cold in the wild, Anana was kept inside Monday because she doesn’t have the thick layer of fat that bears typically develop from feeding on seals and whale carcasses.


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