Frigid Air, Snow, Worry Ranchers In Plains, South

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - An icy blast that blew through a large swath of the Plains and the South brought record low temperatures to some areas on Thursday and left ranchers and farmers fretting over the welfare of livestock left outside in up to 2 feet of snow in areas.

At least four people were killed in traffic accidents on Wednesday that were linked to the second major snowstorm to pass through the nation's midsection in a week.

The thermometer read minus 31 degrees in Nowata, Okla., on Thursday, breaking the state's previous low record temperature of minus 27 degrees that was set in 1905 and matched in 1930.

Across the state border in Arkansas, temperatures dipped to minus 18 in Fayetteville, forcing farmer Paul Marinoni to delay going out to check on the welfare of his cattle. The area is unaccustomed to such cold, and cattlemen were worried that pregnant cows might give birth and that newborns could stick to the ground like tongues on a flagpole.

Marinoni, 70, eventually made it out to his cattle and found that all 70 had survived and none had given birth. But he said none of his three new tractors would start.

The frigid temperatures followed a powerful blizzard that howled through the nation's midsection Wednesday and made its way into the Deep South, where it brought a mix of rain and snow to some areas. The heaviest snow was concentrated in the northeast corner of Oklahoma, where the towns of Colcord and Spavinaw got 22 and 23 inches, respectively. The deepest snow was reported near the village of Jay, with 25 inches.

Three people, including a mother and her infant, died in traffic accidents Wednesday along a snow-covered highway in Arkansas, and another woman was killed when she lost control of her vehicle in Springfield, Mo. A van carrying prisoners skidded on ice and crashed on a highway in eastern Oklahoma on Thursday, injuring two prisoners. Blowing snow brought traffic to a halt in some areas and abandoned cars choked major highways after some drivers gave up and walked away.

The fresh snow was especially troublesome in Tulsa, Okla., where many roads were still impassable from last week's record 14-inch snowfall. The previous storm kept students out of school for at least six days. Mail, bus and trash service were only recently restored.

Five more inches of snow fell Wednesday in Tulsa, according to the National Weather Service. That raised the city's total for the winter to 25.9 inches, breaking the previous seasonal record of 25.6 inches, set during the winter of 1923-24.

Elsewhere in Oklahoma, ranchers struggled to keep their herds well fed and hydrated. Danny Engelman spent hours tending to some 300 cows.

"If the temperatures get down to zero, with wind chills of 20 below zero, you've got a good chance of losing a calf," Engelman said. "Sometimes you've got to put them in the pickup and get some heat on them."

Most ranchers prepare for winter storms by giving their cattle the right food to build up their energy reserves.

"If their belly is filled with high-protein feed, they can withstand incredible cold," Engelman said.

Meanwhile, poultry farmers will burn a lot of propane in the next few days trying to heat their chicken houses, said Dustan Clark, an Extension Service poultry veterinarian at the University of Arkansas.

"It's a balancing act - ventilating the house to keep it from getting too damp, bringing in the cold air, and heating it to keep it from getting too cold," he said.