By TAMMY WEBBER
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dangerously cold temperatures blamed for at least nine deaths have wreaked havoc across a wide swath of the U.S., freezing a water tower in Iowa, halting ferry service in New York and leading officials to open warming centers even in the Deep South.
The National Weather Service issued wind-chill advisories and freeze warnings Tuesday for a vast expanse of the country stretching from South Texas to Canada and from Montana through New England.
Indianapolis on early Tuesday tied a record low for Jan. 2 of minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit. The previous record for that day was set in 1887.
The plunging temperatures led Indianapolis Public Schools to cancel classes. And the northwest Indiana city of Lafayette got down to minus 19, shattering the previous record, set in 1979, of minus 5 for the date, the National Weather Service said. After Lafayette residents began complaining of a hum, Duke Energy released a statement saying the sound was caused by additional power surging through utility lines to meet electricity demands.
“The temperatures are certainly extreme, but we’ve seen colder,” said Joseph Nield, a meteorologist in Indianapolis, noting that the all-time low temperature in Indiana, set in 1994, was minus 36.
Whether or not it’s breaking records, the cold this year is nothing to trifle with, forecasters warned.
With Chicago-area residents expecting wind chills between -35 and -20 degrees, forecasters warned of frost bite and hypothermia risks and urged the public to take precautions such as dressing in layers, wearing a hat and gloves, covering exposed skin and bringing pets indoors.
Atlanta hospitals were seeing a surge in emergency-room visits for hypothermia and other ailments as temperatures plunged well below the freezing point. Before dawn on Tuesday, thermometers in Atlanta were registering 13 degrees.
“We have a group of patients who are coming in off the street who are looking to escape the cold — we have dozens and dozens of those every day,” said Dr. Brooks Moore, associate medical director in the emergency department of Grady Health System, which operates Georgia’s largest hospital in Atlanta.
The cold has been blamed for at least nine deaths in the past week.
Police in St. Louis said a homeless man found dead inside a trash bin Monday evening apparently froze to death as the temperature there dropped to negative 6 degrees. Sheriff’s officials in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, said a 27-year-old woman whose body was found Monday evening on the shore of Lake Winnebago most likely died of exposure.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office said two men whose bodies were found Sunday showed signs of hypothermia. Police believe the cold weather also may have played a part in the death of a man in Bismarck, North Dakota, whose body was found near a river.
Warming shelters were opened across the South as freeze watches and warnings blanketed the region. Hard-freeze warnings were issued for much of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Temperatures fell to 8 degrees near Cullman, Alabama, and 20 degrees in Mobile, Alabama. Georgia saw one of its coldest temperatures of the winter: 2 degrees shortly before dawn at a U.S. Forest Service weather station at Toccoa, Georgia.
Plunging overnight temperatures in Texas brought rare snow flurries as far south as Austin, and accidents racked up on icy roads throughout the state. In the central Texas city of Abilene, the local police chief said more than three dozen vehicle crashes were reported in 24 hours.
And in Savannah, Georgia — where the January’s average high is 60 degrees — the temperature hovered at 30 at noon Tuesday. It was cold enough for icicles to dangle from the ornate wrought-iron fountain in Forsyth Park at the edge of the city’s downtown historic district. The city could see up to 2 inches of snow and sleet on Wednesday.
“I’ve never seen icicles in Savannah, period,” said Sean Dempsey, a local restaurant manager who wore a hat, gloves and a thick coat to walk his dogs Tuesday. “I’m pretty sure last year at New Year’s lots of families were in the park playing catch, Frisbee football and stuff like that.”
Dempsey said he expects his restaurant will still open on Tuesday, although he predicted many businesses will close.
“Basically, this town will kind of shut down,” Dempsey said.
The Waterloo suburb of Evansdale lost water service for a time Monday after temperatures fell to minus 20 degrees. Mayor Doug Faas said Tuesday that water was being run directly from the wells into the system to bypass what was suspected to be an ice blockage in the tower.
A city staffer planned to climb the tower later Tuesday to see what was wrong and find a possible remedy to the situation.