8 Jan 2014

North America cold blast settles in east

8:20 pm on 8 January 2014

A blast of arctic weather has settled over eastern North America, bringing dangerously low temperatures not seen in decades.

The most extreme arctic blasts, blamed on a weather pattern known as the polar vortex, were said to have affected all 50 states in the US and nearly 190 million people.

Air, rail and road travel remain snarled by high, freezing wind, and residents have been warned to stay indoors to avoid frostbite, the BBC reports.

Ice builds up along Lake Michigan as temperatures in Chicago hit a record low.

Ice builds up along Lake Michigan as temperatures in Chicago hit a record low. Photo: AFP

The arrival late on Monday of the arctic weather pattern caused temperatures to plummet overnight in New York and Washington DC by as much as 45 degrees in a matter of hours, from unseasonably warm highs a day earlier.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo closed parts of major highways across his state in preparation for the extreme weather.

In Kentucky, an escaped prisoner turned himself in to get out of the cold on Tuesday.

Some parts of the Midwest hit -26°C as low as the Antarctic coast in winter, and much colder than the inside of a domestic freezer.

Temperature records were shattered in states across the United States, including Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

It was -17°C in the small town of Hell, Michigan, prompting online jokes that the weather was so bad even hell had frozen over.

But it was Embarrass, Minnesota, that experienced the lowest temperature in the nation on Tuesday: -37°C and colder than readings recently recorded on the Red Planet by the Mars Rover.

Adding to the misery, forecasters say areas on the eastern shores of the Great Lakes could again be blanketed by snow as cold air moved over the water.

In Toronto, the temperature dropped to -24°C before dawn on Tuesday. Cold air broke records in Chicago on Monday, where the temperature of -27°C was the lowest ever seen on that date.

It was one of more than 120 daily temperature records broken in cities across the US since the beginning of 2014, many dating back decades.

The polar blast was threatening crops and livestock across the American farm belt, even in the usually temperate Deep South. The freeze was expected to reach as far south as Texas and central Florida, the National Weather Service said.

The cold temperatures have been widely blamed on a shift in the weather pattern known as the "polar vortex", creating some extreme temperatures.

The freezing, gusty winds have already forced the cancellation of 2300 flights on Tuesday and have also caused widespread road and rail delays.