Frigid Midwest temps are the coldest of the season

MADISON, Wis. Homeless people scrambled to find shelter, schools closed down and plumbers wrestled with frozen pipes Tuesday as the upper Midwest endured a third straight day of bitter cold temperatures.

Waves of frigid Arctic air began sweeping south from Canada on Saturday night, locking the Midwest in a deep freeze that has left a section of the country well-acquainted with winter's pains reeling. Authorities suspect exposure has played a role in at least three deaths so far.

"I am wearing a Snuggie under a top and another jacket over that," said Faye Whitbeck, president of the chamber of commerce in International Falls, Minn., a town near the Canadian border where the temperature was minus 30 on Tuesday morning. The anticipated high was a balmy 8 below. "I pulled out a coat that went right to my ankles this morning and I wore two scarves."

The coldest location in the lower 48 states Monday was Embarrass, Minn., at 36 below. On Sunday it was Babbitt, Minn., at 29 below, according to the National Weather Service.

CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds cautioned that frostbite was possible at these frigid temperatures in less than 10 minutes.

Average temperatures in the U.S. on January 22, 2013.
Average temperatures in the U.S. on January 22, 2013.
CBS News

Ariana Laffey, a 30-year-old homeless woman, kept warm with a blanket, three pairs of pants and six shirts as she sat on a milk crate begging near Chicago's Willis Tower Tuesday morning. She said she and her husband spent the night under a bridge, bundled up under a half-dozen blankets.

"We're just trying to make enough to get a warm room to sleep in tonight," Laffey said.

A woman walks down the street on one of the coldest days of the year on January 22, 2013 in New York City. New York, and much of the Northeast, will be experiencing colder-than-usual temperatures for the remainder of the week with temperatures in the 20's and a wind chill feeling in the single digits.
A woman walks down the street on one of the coldest days of the year on January 22, 2013 in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

But in Sioux Falls, S.D., where winter temperatures are normally well below freezing, some homeless shelters had open beds. Shelter managers suspect people who needed a place to stay were already using the services before the temperatures reached more extreme lows. The first cold snap of the season was in early December. Overnight temperatures dropped to 9 below with the wind chill.

In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, residents woke to a wind chill that made it feel like 35 below. The temperature in Madison, Wis., was a whopping 1 degree above just before midday Tuesday. Chicago was a hot spot: The mercury climbed to 6 just before noon.

The temperature in Detroit was a toasty 7 degrees with a 10 below wind chill around midday. City officials said they planned to extend hours at its two warming centers. A warming center run by St. Peter and Paul Jesuit Church downtown that usually sees 50 to 60 people on a typical winter day had taken in about 90 people Tuesday morning.

Police in Milwaukee, where the temperature was just 2 degrees at noon, checked under freeway overpasses to find the homeless and urge them to find a shelter. The United Way of Greater Milwaukee has donated $50,000 to two homeless shelters so they can open overflow centers.

"We're incredibly relieved," said Donna Rongholt-Migan, executive director of the Cathedral Center, a Milwaukee shelter that received $25,000. "I was walking my dog last night and I couldn't feel my legs just after walking around the block."

Schools across the region either started late or didn't open at all. Districts in Duluth, Minn., and Ashland, Bayfield, Hurley, Washburn and Superior in far northern Wisconsin closed amid warnings that the wicked wind chills could freeze exposed flesh within a minute.

"It's brutal," Courtney Thrall, a 21-year-old University of Wisconsin-Madison student, said as she waited for her bus, her fur-trimmed parka hood pulled over her head.

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