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Records shattered as polar air blows through U.S.

 The record-breaking polar air that has made the Midwest shiver over the past few days spread to the East and South on Tuesday, sending the mercury plunging into the single digits and teens from Boston and New York to Atlanta, Birmingham, Nashville and Little Rock.

The big chill started in the Midwest over the weekend, and by Tuesday, it covered about half of the country. In New York City, the high was expected to be 10; in Boston, around 18.  


Across the South, records were shattered like icicles:

  • Birmingham, Ala., dipped to a low of 7, breaking the record of 11 degrees set in 1970.
  • Atlanta, Georgia, saw a record low of 6.
  • Huntsville, Ala., dropped to 5
  • Nashville, Tenn., got down to 2
  • Little Rock, Ark., fell to 9.

Other record-breaking lows across the country:

  •  3 in Baltimore, Maryland, with a previous record low 8

  • -14 in Detroit, Michigan, with a previous record low -5
  • 4 in New York City, with a previous record low 6
  • -11 in Cleveland, Ohio, with a previous record low -7
  • 4 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a previous record low 7
  • -9 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a previous record low -5
What is the polar vortex and what causes it? 02:19
 The deep freeze dragged on in the Midwest as well, with the thermometer reaching minus 12 overnight in the Chicago area and 14 below in suburban St. Louis. More than 500 Amtrak passengers were stranded overnight on three Chicago-bound trains that were stopped by blowing and drifting snow in Illinois. Food ran low, but the heat stayed on.  

The worst should be over in the next day or two. Warmer weather - at least, near or above freezing - is in the forecast for much of the stricken part of the country.  

A frontal system draped from north to south along the U.S. East Coast, Jan 7, 2014. AP/NASA

 Emergency workers in Atlanta drove the homeless to shelters or hospitals.   With the bitter cold slowing baggage handling and aircraft refueling, airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights in the U.S., bringing the four-day total to more than 11,000.  

In New Orleans, which reported a low of 26 degrees, hardware stores ran out of pipe insulation. A pipe burst in an Atlanta suburb and a main road quickly froze over. In downtown Atlanta, a Ferris wheel near Centennial Olympic Park that opened over the summer to give riders a bird's eye view of the city closed because it was too cold.  

A driver drives through an ice patch near Georgia State University, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Tulis) AP

 Farther south in Pensacola, Fla., a Gulf Coast city better known for its white sand beaches than frost, streets normally filled with joggers, bikers and people walking dogs were deserted early Tuesday. A sign on a bank flashed 19 degrees. Patches of ice sparkled in parking lots where puddles froze overnight.  

Polar vortex shatters temperature records 01:15

The Lower 48 states, when averaged out, reached a low of 13.8 degrees overnight Monday, according to calculations by Ryan Maue of Weather Bell Analytics. An estimated 190 million people in the U.S. were subjected to the icy blast, caused by a kink in the "polar vortex," the strong winds that surround the North Pole. 

 PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid that serves more than 61 million people in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and South, asked users to conserve electricity because of the cold, especially in the morning and late afternoon. 

 Across the South, the Tennessee Valley Authority said power demand in the morning reached the second-highest winter peak in the history of the Depression-era utility. Temperatures averaged 4 degrees across the utility's seven-state region. 

Natural gas demand in the U.S. set a record Tuesday, eclipsing the mark set a day earlier, according to Jack Weixel, director of energy analysis at Bentek Energy.  


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