RICK CALLAHAN, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dangerously cold polar air snapped decades-old records as it spread Tuesday from the Midwest to southern and eastern parts of the U.S. and eastern Canada, making it hazardous to venture outside and keeping many schools and businesses shuttered.
Monday’s bitterly cold temperatures broke records in Chicago, which set a record for the date at minus 16 Fahrenheit (minus 27 Celsius) , and Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the mercury fell to 13 below F (25 below C). Records also fell in Oklahoma and Texas, and wind chills across the region were 40 below F (40 below C) and colder. Officials in states like Indiana already struggling with high winds and more than a foot (30 centimeters) 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 will next invade the East and South on Tuesday, bringing with it the prospect of more records falling. Highs in the single digits F (minus 17 to minus 13 C) were expected in Georgia and Alabama, and wind chill warnings stretched as far south as Florida, with forecasts calling for minus 10 F (minus 23 C) in Atlanta and minus 12 F (minus 24 C) in Baltimore.
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 Tuesday because of the cold, especially in the morning and late afternoon.
Recovery will be the focus in several Midwestern states Tuesday, since the bitter cold followed inches (centimeters) 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 F (negative 20s C), 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 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 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, Illinois — 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, Maryland, said the blast of frigid air raised concerns that roads wet from melted snow would freeze over.
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 Tuesday 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 Tuesday. 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 F (minus 3 C) on Wednesday, and other parts of the central U.S. could climb above freezing later in the week.
Even International Falls, Minnesota, ., had something to look forward to. Wind chills dropped as low as minus 55 F (minus 48 C) Monday, but were expected to rebound to 25 below F (32 below C) Tuesday. By Friday, the low was expected to be 5 to 10 above zero F (minus 15 to minus 13), Oravec said.
In Canada, large parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba were in a deep freeze Monday with temperatures near or below minus 22 F (minus 30 C) and wind chills colder than minus 40 F (minus 40 C).
In Newfoundland, about 5,000 customers remained without power because of rolling blackouts in recent days, but Premier Kathy Dunderdale said it wasn’t a crisis and government services were still operating.
Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis; Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, Kentucky; and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.