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Jan. 6: 2013: on a frigidly cold day over a steaming Minneapolis skyline.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Jan. 5, 2014: Anana, a polar bear at Brookfield Zoo in the Chicago area. The zoo was closed Monday, Jan . 6 due to the snowstorm and sub-zero temperatures.

Jim Schulz, Associated Press - Ap

Arctic air cuts wide swath across the U.S.

  • Article by: Rick Callahan and Steve Karnowski
  • Associated Press
  • January 7, 2014 - 2:27 AM

By the time the “polar vortex” spreads across the rest of the country Tuesday, some 187 million people could feel its frigid effects.

Record lows were possible in the East and South, with highs in the single digits expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.

Subzero windchills were forecast up and down the coast, including minus 10 in Atlanta. A windchill warning was in place for St. Augustine, Fla.

Ronald G. Smith Sr. took shelter at an Indianapolis Red Cross shelter after waking up with the power out and his cat, Sweet Pea, agitated in the darkness.

“The screen door blew open and woke me up, and it was cold and dark. I got dressed and I was scared, thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ My cat knew something was wrong. He was jumping all over the place,” Smith said. “This is brutal cold.”

Schools and day-care centers shut down. For a big swath of the Midwest, the subzero cold moved in behind another winter wallop — more than a foot of snow and high winds that made traveling dicey.

Several deaths were blamed on the snow, ice and cold, including the death of a 1-year-old boy who was in a car that collided with a snowplow Monday in Missouri.

It took authorities using 10-ton military vehicles known as “wreckers” to clear all the chain-reaction accidents caused when several semis jackknifed along snowy interstates in southern Illinois.

The crash stranded about 375 vehicles, but there were no fatalities or injuries, largely because motorists either stayed with their cars or were rescued and taken to nearby warming centers.

Others got stuck in the snowdrifts, including the Southern Illinois men’s basketball team, which had to spend the night in a church.

Abrupt temperature drop-off

In the eastern United States, temperatures in the 40s and 50s Monday helped melt piles of snow from a storm last week, raising the risk that roads would freeze over as the cold air moved in, said Bob Oravec from the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

The snap was set to be dramatic; Springfield, Mass., enjoyed 56 degrees Monday morning but faced an overnight low of 6.

More than 3,700 flights were canceled by late Monday afternoon, following a weekend of travel disruption across the U.S. Airline officials said de-icing fluid was freezing, fuel was pumping sluggishly, and ramp workers had difficulty loading luggage.

JetBlue Airways stopped all scheduled flights to and from New York and Boston on Monday. Southwest ground to a halt in Chicago earlier in the day, but by the evening, flights resumed in “a trickle,” a spokesman said.

Authorities in Indiana and Kentucky — where temperatures dropped into the single digits and below, with windchills in the minus 20s and worse — warned people not to leave their homes.

The Indiana General Assembly postponed the opening of its 2014 session because of the weather.

Utility crews worked to restore power to more than 40,000 Indiana customers and cautioned that some people could be in the cold and dark for days.

Concern for the homeless

Officials in Chicago and other cities checked on the homeless and shut-ins for fear they might freeze to death on the street or in their homes.

A heater that barely worked and his drafty windows made Jeffery Davis decide he would be better off sitting in a Chicago doughnut shop for three hours Monday until it was time to go to work.

He threw on two pairs of pants, two T-shirts, “at least three jackets,” two hats, a pair of gloves, thick socks and boots, and took a train to within a few blocks of the library where he works.

“I never remember it ever being this cold,” Davis said. “I’m flabbergasted.”

Elnur Toktombetov, a Chicago taxi driver, hit the road with hot tea and doughnuts. An hour into his shift, his cab’s windows were still coated with ice on the inside.

People are “really happy to catch the cab. And I notice they really tip well,” he said.

At Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, Anana the polar bear, who never grew the thick layer of fat that bears in the Arctic develop, was kept in an indoor habitat where it was a balmy 40 degrees.

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