People as far south as Alabama and Mississippi bundled up against Thursday's cold, which set low-temperature records in dozens of cities, filled homeless shelters to overflowing and forced cancellation of Kentucky horse races because of a frozen track.
"If you want to compare it to something, the high last year on this date was 79 degrees with a low of 61," said Derrel Martin of the National Weather Service in Nashville, where it was 18 degrees Thursday morning.
In fact, temperatures in Columbia, S.C., on Sunday reached 83 degrees, 1 above a record set in 1945. On Thursday, the low in the city was 44 degrees.
With temperatures not expected to exceed the mid-20s, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., canceled races Thursday. President Tom Meeker said the frozen track made it dangerous for horses and riders. It was the first time in 16 years that a frozen track forced such a cancellation.
On the plus side, noted Ken Pinkston, insect specialist at Oklahoma State University, the cold would put an end to a mosquito infestation that had plagued Oklahoma since floods last month.
Northern Indiana got its first major snow Thursday, with nearly five inches in South Bend by midday. The weather was blamed for a traffic fatality southeast of South Bend, bringing to 21 the number of weather-related deaths in the week since the season's first big snowstorm hit the Plains.
The weather service blamed "an incredibly cold outbreak of arctic air" from Canada for the chill in the Plains, Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley.
On Thursday, cold pushed on to the Southeast. Freeze warnings were posted in parts of Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia, as well as most of Alabama, central and northern Mississippi and northern Louisiana.
Pacific Storm Brews
Although temperatures were expected to rise in many areas by today, a Pacific storm was poised to bring rain and snow to the West.
By noon Thursday, the weather service had reported records broken or tied in 46 communities. Among them: Casper, Wyo., 11 degrees below zero; Chicago, 6 degrees; Fort Smith, Ark., 17; Louisville, Ky., 16.
The lowest temperature reported Thursday morning was 12 degrees below zero at International Falls, Minn., three degrees lower than the record set in 1959. At Peoria, Ill., the 5-degree reading was the lowest so early in the fall in 130 years of record keeping.