Temperatures hit zero as far south as Kentucky on Saturday as a river of North Pole air flowed across much of the nation east of the Rockies. But it wasn't cold enough to stop anglers, snowmobilers and football fans.
"It is bizarrely cold," said Ed Clarice of Buffalo, N.Y., waiting for Saturday's playoff game between Buffalo and the Los Angeles Raiders. "My kid won't even come with me."Afternoon temperatures in the Buffalo area hovered between 1 and 5 degrees, and the wind chill was calculated at 25 below zero to 40 below, the National Weather Service said.
The uniform of the day from the northern Plains to the Northeast was clothes, clothes and more clothes.
"I have on my normal underwear, Duofold longjohns, a turtleneck, a second pair of longjohns, a sweatshirt, sweatpants, a two-ply windbreaker, a 20-year-old fake fur jacket that is about the warmest thing I own," said Alice Masters of Mount Vernon, N.Y., as she caught a train into New York City. She also wore two scarves, a beret, ear muffs, gloves and boots.
It was the coldest air mass to invade the United States since December 1989, the Weather Service said.
The cold was nothing new this season to places like International Falls, Minn., which hit 34 below on Saturday, or North Dakota, with lows of 33 below at Grand Forks and Fargo. In northeastern Minnesota, an unofficial observer at Roseau reported a low of 46 below, the Weather Service said. On Chicago's lakefront, wind off Lake Michigan drove the wind chill to 62 below zero.
But this cold air mass extended from the western Plains to the East Coast and well into the South. Jackson, Ky., chilled to a record zero, and Asheville, N.C., bottomed out at a record 7. At North Carolina's Grandfather Mountain, the low of 9 below combined with wind gusting to 75 mph for a wind chill of 85 below zero.
A low of 32 below at Watertown, N.Y., greeted about 125 members of the Army's 10th Mountain Division returning from Somalia, where temperatures were in the 90s, to their home base at Fort Drum.
"I thought my lungs were going to crystallize," Lt. Col. Chuck Sardo said.
Homeless shelters scrambled to provide extra beds and meals.
New York City agencies reported that 6,344 people spent the night in city shelters, short of the capacity of 6,564 beds. Philadelphia's "code blue" emergency rule was in effect, allowing city workers to legally force people into shelters.
Power lines that snapped in the cold caused scattered power outages; 20,000 customers were without electricity for part of the night in Tennessee. Municipal water utilities asked customers to let faucets trickle to keep pipes from freezing.
Football fans weren't the only ones who tried to ignore the cold.
About 500 people gathered at the Kansas Capitol in Topeka to observe the birthday of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The temperature was 9 degrees, with a wind chill of 13 below.
On frozen Gull Lake near Brainerd, Minn., an estimated 5,000 people paid $35 per line per hole to participate in the fourth annual Brainerd Jaycees' Ice Fishing Extravaganza - despite a low of 37 below.
"You've just got to know a diehard fisherman. They'll do about anything," said spokeswoman Susan Hadrits. The charity event also had the incentive of more than $100,000 in cash and prizes.