A blanket of bone-chilling arctic air covered the United States East Coast and Midwest on Saturday, creating dangerous conditions as tens of millions of people struggled to clean up from a blizzard that dumped deep, drifting snow in many areas this week.
Cold and snowy weather was blamed for at least 18 deaths in the past few days, including four in North Carolina traffic accidents and three in Texas.
Weather warnings stretched from Florida to New England and inland to states to the Upper Midwest, while the National Weather Service (NWS) warned of freezing rain from Kansas to Ohio.
In some areas, officials warned residents that exposed skin could freeze within minutes. Cities from Houston to Boston have stepped up efforts to bring the homeless to shelters.
The cold snap complicated efforts by crews to clear snow and ice from roadways after the Thursday's blizzard forced hundreds of schools to close and causing commuter rail services to suspend or reduce service. Killington, the famous Vermont ski resort, closed on Saturday even though snow conditions were excellent, saying wind chill on the slopes was at least minus 50° Fahrenheit (minus 46°Celsius).
“It’s just too cold to put folks out there,” the resort said on its website.
The brutal cold in parts of the East Coast and Midwest showed no sign of abating this weekend, but a thaw should begin on Monday, said meteorologist Bob Oravec of the Maryland-based Weather Prediction Centre of NWS. Before then, conditions will probably worsen.
“Sunday morning is going to be the coldest morning” in the weeklong stretch of frigid weather, he said.
In many eastern regions of the country, residents shivered in temperatures of below 0°F (minus 18°C), Mr Oravec said.
Among the coldest places in the country on Saturday were the small Minnesota towns of Cotton and Embarrass, where the mercury plummeted to minus 39°F (minus 39°C), Mr Oravec said. But that fell short of a record low for those hamlets in the northeastern corner of the state, where sub-zero temperatures are not unusual in January.
Not so with New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport, where a measuring station recorded a record low for this date at 8°F (minus 13°C), Mr Oravec said.
The airport was closed from Thursday to Friday morning because of whiteout conditions from heavy snow. Some passengers endured more delays on Saturday after the wing of a China Southern plane clipped the tail of a Kuwait Airlines jet on the tarmac.
After shutting down on Wednesday, Charleston International Airport in South Carolina remained closed on Saturday, with runaways still inactive after five inches (12.7 cm) of snow.
The East Coast’s first snowstorm of 2018 featured gusts of more than 70 miles per hour (113 kph), dumping 22 inches of snow in parts of Maine and 17 inches in parts of Massachusetts before ending on Friday, a statement from NWS said.
The storm was powered by a rapid drop in barometric pressure that some weather forecasters called a bombogenesis, or a “bomb cyclone.”