Big chill holds us in its grip
INDIANAPOLIS — Frigid air that snapped decades-old records will make venturing outside dangerous for a second straight day, this time spreading to southern and eastern parts of the U.S. and keeping many schools and businesses shuttered.
Meanwhile, residents driven from their homes by power outages in the Midwest worried about burst pipes.
Monday’s subzero temperatures broke records in Chicago, which set a record for the date at minus 16, and Fort Wayne, Ind., where the mercury fell to 13 below.
[PHOTO: Letter carrier John Klimkowski braved the elements Monday as temperatures plummeted to deliver mail along Walcott Street in Clymer. He works out of the Indiana office but was filling in for a carrier in Clymer who had the day off. (Tom Peel/Gazette photo)]
Records also fell in Oklahoma and Texas, and wind chills across the region were 40 below and colder. Officials in states like Indiana already struggling with high winds and more than a foot of snow urged residents to stay home if they could.
“The cold is the real killer here,” Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said Monday as he asked schools and businesses to remain closed another day. “In 10 minutes you could be dead without the proper clothes.”
The polar air has now invaded the East and South today, bringing with it the prospect of more records falling. Highs in the single digits were expected in Georgia and Alabama, and wind chill warnings stretched as far south as Florida, with forecasts calling for minus 10 in Atlanta and minus 12 in Baltimore.
Locally, all schools in Indiana and Armstrong counties were closed today, most having made the call Monday afternoon and evening. The United School District declared an early dismissal on Monday.
Temperatures Monday bottomed out well below zero with wind chills of 30 to 35 below zero.
Today, temperatures were expected to rise to a mere 3 degrees with a low overnight of around zero.
A gradual warmup is on the way this week with temperatures climbing to or above 50 degrees over the weekend.
Forecasters said some 187 million people in all could feel the effects of the “polar vortex” 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 parts of the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and South, has asked users to conserve electricity today because of the cold, especially in the morning and late afternoon.
Recovery will be the focus in several Midwestern states today, since the subzero cold followed inches of snow and high winds that made traveling treacherous — especially on interstates in Indiana and Illinois — and was being 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.
More than 30,000 customers in Indiana were without power late Monday night. Utility crews worked to restore electricity as temperatures plunged into the negative teens, but officials cautioned some people could be in the cold and dark for days.
“My kids are ready to go home, and I’m ready too,” said Timolyn Johnson-Fitzgerald, 41, 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. A spokesman said the trains — coming from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Quincy, Ill. — are operating on tracks owned by BNSF railroad and crews are working to reopen the tracks.
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 are signs things are returning to normal.
JetBlue Airways, which stopped all scheduled flights to and from New York and Boston on Monday, planned to resume some flights this morning. Southwest Airlines operations in Chicago resumed Monday night, even if it was, as a spokesman for the Texas-based airline called it, “a trickle.”
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 — are in store for the Midwest. Indianapolis should reach 27 degrees on Wednesday, and other parts of the central U.S. 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 below zero 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, you know.”