Freezing, bitter cold scrambles travel and prompts danger warnings

12:31 PM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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Video: Dangerous deep freeze sweeps east

Video: Deep freeze settles in across much of U.S.

Video: Bitter cold prompts danger warnings

CINCINNATI (USA TODAY) -- No one is more aware of brutal cold front sweeping much of the nation than Cassandra Lenzley.

Lenzley, a security guard, was patrolling the overnight shift outside three downtown high-rises here until 6 a.m. Tuesday. The temperature dipped to 7 below, with a wind chill of minus 26.

"It's stinging cold," Lenzley said. "You skin burns if you are out too long. You can feel it through your clothes, and I have on three layers."

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Lenzley said it was one of the most miserable nights of her life "and I'm from Michigan."

Hardy Midwesterners well accustomed to frigid weather found the blast of Arctic cold to be far beyond anything in recent memory, breaking records and testing their legendary ability to cope with winter's extremes. Tuesday dawned even colder as the "polar vortex'' of frigid Arctic air advances, bringing more record-breaking cold to the East and Northeast.

At least 12 deaths have been blamed on the cold front and series of snowstorms since late last week, including six in Michigan, the Weather Channel reported.

New Yorkers who saw temperatures above 50 degrees Monday morning saw them drop to single digits Monday night. At least 45 record low temperatures were set Tuesday morning in the South, East, and Midwest, according to the Weather Channel. Among them: Atlanta (6 degrees), Huntsville, Ala. (4 degrees), Knoxville, Tenn. (6), Charlotte (6), New York City (4), Baltimore (3), Philadelphia (4), Cleveland (-11), and Detroit (-14).

"The big story today is it's still bitter cold across the Great Lakes and the East," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines said Tuesday. "But we are already seeing moderate air pushing into North Dakota. We just gotta get through today."

That was no small order. Brutal subzero temperatures forced school closings, kept people home from work, stymied air travel and posed real danger to anyone lingering outdoors.

Air travel, all but impossible Monday, saw a similar trend early Tuesday. More than 2,500 schedule commercial flights were canceled by 10:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, with 1,500-plus more delayed, reported. On Monday, more than 5,000 flights were canceled and more than 10,000 more were seriously delayed.

On Monday, Chicago saw a record low of minus 16, and Quincy, Ill., tied a record at minus 9. Wind chills across the Midwest were 40 below and colder.

Calculating for the wind effect, Comertown, Mont., saw minus 63 and Rolla, N.D., saw minus 60 wind chills. The cold stretched into southern regions accustomed to a milder January. Waco, Texas, saw 16 degrees and Monroe, La., 19, both records.

Many people, like David Mousseau, an operations manager for an energy company, abandoned efforts to get to work and decided to stay home, saying it was the coldest he has experienced in three decades as a Chicagoan.

"I went out and started the car but my feet were frozen within five minutes," Mousseau said. "And I had on all the stuff I would for skiing. So I decided to pass."

Temperature in Chicago rose to just minus 10 in midafternoon Monday. Much of the city was shut down, including the SkyDeck Chicago at the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. Winds made for a wind-chill effect temperature in the minus-40s.

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"This is some of the most extreme weather we have seen in the city of Chicago in decades," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. His office and other city agencies urged people to stay inside. The city extended hours on its warming centers where people can shelter from the cold.

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, traveling from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Quincy, Ill., had been evacuated from the trains and would reach their destinations either by train or bus later Tuesday.

Schools were closed in Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and the entire state of Minnesota as people were warned to keep children out of the cold. Cities urged taking pets indoors.

IIllinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared a state disaster and activated the National Guard.

In Indiana, the General Assembly postponed the opening of its 2014 session, and the state appellate courts shut down.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence ordered the National Guard to help stranded motorists, moving people to shelters and transporting emergency medical services. to those in need. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard upgraded the city's travel emergency level, making it illegal to drive except in emergencies or seeking shelter. The last time the city issued such a travel warning was in 1978.

Steve Cochrane, director of regional economics at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pa., said the cold's economic impact will be small for the nation's economy, though it will be felt locally.

"You spend less when you are hunkered down and more later on,'' Cochrane said.

Jennifer Edwards Baker writes for The Cincinnati Enquirer. Contributing: William M. Welch, William Spain, Tim Mullaney, USA TODAY; Associated Press

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