PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — An arctic blast that sent shivers across the Midwest spread to the eastern U.S. on Wednesday, with bitter weather breaking records from Mississippi to Maine.
Cold temperatures that stretched to the Gulf Coast followed a snowstorm that the National Weather Service said contributed to nearly 30% of the country being covered in snow as of Wednesday.
Snowfall, slippery roads and cold temperatures were blamed for more than a half-dozen deaths across the country since Monday.
In the Northeast, temperatures dipped to single digits early Wednesday in some communities. Forecasters projected even lower temperatures late Wednesday and early Thursday in some locations.
More than 200 records have fallen since Monday, and the number is expected to exceed 300 by the time the cold snap ends, said Patrick Burke, lead forecaster at NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
The temperatures reflect a normal winter weather pattern that broke loose early in the season, unleashing cold air from Arctic Circle, he said.
“This was a wakeup call for a lot of folks in the eastern half of the country,” Burke said, noting that the eastern U.S. had enjoyed warm weather in September and October.
Record low temperatures for the date were recorded Tuesday in New York City; Buffalo, New York; Burlington, Vermont; Augusta, Maine, and parts of Ohio. More daily records were broken Wednesday morning in Burlington, Augusta, and several locations in Pennsylvania.
The temperature dropped to 18 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 8 degrees Celsius) in Birmingham, Alabama, early Wednesday, breaking the previous low record of 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 6 degrees Celsius) set in 1911.
In Greenville, Mississippi, the temperature dropped to 17 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 8 degrees Celsius), breaking a record of 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celsius) set 108 years ago, officials said.
Even the Gulf Coast saw temperatures below freezing, producing “sea smoke” as chilly air moved over warmer water.
The cold air followed heavy snow that reached as far south as Tennessee. Bad conditions were blamed for road deaths since Monday in Michigan, Kansas and Ohio.
In Chicago, the death of an 80-year-old man on Monday was classified as the city’s second cold-related death of the season, officials said.
In southwestern Michigan, a man died Tuesday after getting trapped beneath machinery he was using to clear snow, officials said.