Bone-chilling cold grips wide swath of US, at least 2 deaths

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Bone-chilling cold gripped much of the U.S. as 2018 began, breaking century-old records and leading to at least three deaths attributed to exposure to the dangerously low temperatures.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories and freeze warnings Tuesday covering a vast area from South Texas to Canada and from Montana through New England. Authorities opened warming shelters in the South as temperatures dipped notably close to zero in Alabama and Georgia.

The bitter cold wave enveloped much of the Midwest on Monday, yet that didn’t deter hundreds of people from ringing in the new year by jumping into Lake Michigan. Throngs of people took part in the Polar Plunge in Milwaukee, despite sub-freezing temperatures and a warning of potential hypothermia from the local fire chief. Organizers canceled a similar event on the Chicago lakefront, after the temperature there dipped below zero and thick white steam rose from the lake. Organizers said the arctic blast made jumping into the lake too dangerous.

Temperatures plunged below zero elsewhere in the Midwest, including in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where the mercury dropped to a record-breaking minus 32 (-36 Celsius). The city’s previous New Year’s Day record had stood for 99 years.

In Nebraska, temperatures hit 15 below zero (-26 Celsius) before midnight Sunday in Omaha, breaking a record low dating to 1884. Omaha officials cited the forecast in postponing the 18th annual New Year’s Eve Fireworks Spectacular that draws around 30,000 people.

It was colder in Des Moines, Iowa, where city officials closed a downtown outdoor ice skating plaza and said it wouldn’t reopen until the city emerged from sub-zero temperatures. The temperature hit 20 below zero (-29 Celsius) early Monday, with the wind chill dipping to negative 31 degrees (-35 Celsius).

Indianapolis Public Schools canceled classes for Tuesday on all its campuses due to the predicted sub-zero temperatures. Students had been scheduled to return from winter break.

In northeastern Montana, the wind chill readings dipped as low as minus 58 (-50 Celsius). And in Duluth, Minnesota, a city known for its bitter cold winters, the wind chill dipped to 36 below zero (-38 Celsius).

Plunging overnight temperatures in Texas brought rare snow flurries as far south as Austin, and accidents racked up on icy roads…

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