A deadly blast of arctic air shattered decades-old temperature records as it enveloped the eastern United States on Tuesday, canceling thousands of flights, driving energy prices higher and overwhelming shelters for homeless people.
New York's Central Park hit a record low temperature for the date - 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 16 Celsius) - but with winds gusting to 32 miles per hour (51 kph) conditions felt far colder, the National Weather Service said.
Authorities have put about half of the United States under a wind chill warning or cold weather advisory, the icy conditions snarling air, road and rail travel. Temperatures were expected to be 25 degrees to 35 degrees Fahrenheit (14-19 degrees Celsius) below normal from the Midwest to the Southeast, the National Weather Service said.
In New York and Washington, D.C. homeless shelters and other public buildings took in people who were freezing outside.
"My hands were frozen like ice picks. I came in here to get my hands warm, I put them under the hot water here," said Mike Smith, A 48-year-old homeless man who had been dozing in the lobby of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington.
Six deaths have been reported across the country since a polar air mass swept over North America over the weekend, producing the coldest temperatures in two decades.
Major U.S. cities were in the grip of temperatures well below freezing, with Chicago seeing temperatures of minus 4 degrees F (minus 20 degrees C), Detroit minus 5 F (minus 21 C) Pittsburgh 1 F (minus 17 C) and Boston 15 F (minus 9 C).
At New York's Bowery Mission homeless shelter, the 80-bed dormitory was at full capacity on Monday night and 179 other people slept in the chapel and cafeteria, officials said.
"We had our staff go out to walk the neighborhood to make sure everyone was aware they could come in for the night," said James Winan, a chief development officer at the Bowery Mission.
Washington, D.C., officials opened libraries, recreation centers and other public spaces for people to warm themselves from temperatures that fell to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 14 Celsius).
COLD HITS SOUTH
In the normally mild south, Atlanta recorded its coldest weather on this date in 44 years, when the temperature dropped to 6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 14 degrees Celsius), while temperatures in northern Florida also briefly dropped below freezing, though the state's citrus crop was unharmed, according to a major growers' group.