WASHINGTON (AFP) — A record cold snap gripped the American Midwest Friday as temperatures plummeted to lows of minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 34 degrees Celsius) and officials scrambled to protect the homeless and vulnerable.
The cold was the result of an arctic blast that descended from Canada and settled across the upper Midwest, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Wilson.
"The wind patterns are like this during the winter," he said. "Some winters it gets cold. Some winters it gets extreme. This is what we term extreme."
The temperatures were the coldest since 1999 in Illinois and since 1994 in some parts of Ohio and Indiana.
Temperatures of minus 32 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 36 degrees Celsius) overnight were recorded in Rockford, Illinois, breaking a record set in 1983, Wilson said.
The front was expected to move east in coming days and bring similar bone-chilling temperatures to the East Coast.
Relief may be a long way off, however, as temperatures remained locked below zero (minus 17 Celsius) Friday and weren't expected to break above 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero Celsius) until later next week, according to the National Weather Service.
In Canada the polar freeze was not any kinder as the extreme cold caused flooding in Montreal and left 100,000 people in Toronto without power or heating for over 12 hours, as temperatures stood frozen at zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius).
The severe cold forced scores of school closures, prompted people to leave their homes for warming centers and saw cadres of volunteers and government officials take to the streets across affected states to ensure the homeless and vulnerable were not stuck in the deadly winter freeze.
Homeless shelters, jammed even beyond capacity because of surging home foreclosures that has produced a significant rise in the numbers of homeless people, looked for churches and other social service agencies to open their doors to make room.
Eddy Bazile, executive director of the Fort Wayne, Indiana Rescue Mission reported his facility had seen a 100 percent increase in occupancy over the last few days.
"I believe there is a surge in need just about everywhere," Bazile said.
In Cleveland, Ohio officials converted recreation centers into warming centers, and issued cold-weather alerts to roughly 100,000 elderly residents, according to the mayor's office spokeswoman Andrea Taylor.
"People are used to the cold here, but they're saying that it hasn't been this cold in years," Taylor said.
Chicago is operating six warming centers, including one open 24 hours a day, and authorities are checking on at least 3,000 residents considered most at risk, said Anne Sheahan, spokeswoman for Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.
"We have some challenges with our homeless population as some people refuse to come in from the cold. That's probably the hardest thing for us to deal with. They're adults, so we can't make them."
Temperatures plummeted in Flint, Michigan, forcing all the city's schools to close, according to Police Chief David Forystek. At midday the temperature was seven degrees Fahrenheit (-14 Celsius) Friday, or 13 degrees below zero (-25 Celsius) factoring in the wind chill.
Flint's local energy company had also postponed cutting power to residents who have fallen behind on their bills, added Forystek,
"That's a private industry thing, but it's a sign of how cold it really is," Forystek said.
"We are used to temperatures in the 20s (minus six to one degree Celsius) and 30s (one to four degrees Celsius), but it's not very often we see the temperature fall to 19 degrees below zero (minus 28 Celsius)."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »