Record freeze extends to eastern United States, at least nine dead

Wed Jan 8, 2014 4:33pm EST
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By Victoria Cavaliere and Brendan O'Brien

NEW YORK/MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - A deadly blast of arctic air shattered decades-old temperature records as it enveloped the eastern United States on Tuesday, snarling air, road and rail travel, driving energy prices higher and overwhelming shelters for homeless people.

At least nine deaths have been reported across the country connected with the polar air mass that swept over North America during the past few days. Authorities have put about half of the United States under a wind chill warning or cold weather advisory.

Temperatures were expected to be 25 degrees to 35 degrees Fahrenheit (14 to 19 degrees Celsius) below normal from the Midwest to the Southeast, the National Weather Service said.

PJM Interconnection, the agency that oversees the electric grid supplying the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest, said electricity suppliers were struggling to keep up with surging demand as the cold forced some power plants to shut.

"This particular cold is far-reaching, and most of our neighbors are experiencing the extreme conditions we are," said Michael Kormos, executive vice president for operations at PJM Interconnection.

Oil refiners were also hit, with Marathon Petroleum Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp both experiencing cold-related outages.

In Oklahoma, a depleted supply of propane due to extreme weather led Governor Mary Fallin to declare a state of emergency, waiving licensing requirements for out-of-state transportation companies to allow them to bring in propane.

Homeless shelters and public buildings took in people who were freezing outside.   Continued...

A man walks on a street on another day of frigid temperatures in downtown Chicago, Illinois, January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young