Blowing snow and frigid temperatures assail nation

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Arctic air extended its grip Wednesday with below-zero temperatures stretching from Montana to northern New England and frost nipping the Gulf Coast. A few ski areas in Vermont and northern Minnesota closed for the day because of the cold - 38 below zero at International Falls, with the wind chill during the night estimated at 50 below.

The temperature at Bolton, Vt., was 10 below zero and operators of the Bolton Valley ski resort feared that skiers could freeze if a lift malfunctioned, said spokesman Josh Arneson. "Getting people off a lift can take time," he said.

Schools from Iowa to Pennsylvania opened late so kids would not have to be out in the coldest part of the morning. Some schools closed.

Blowing snow that cut visibility was the problem in the Chicago area. Airlines canceled more than 300 flights at O'Hare International Airport. And in nearby northwest Indiana, state police said one person was killed in a chain reaction crash involving about 20 vehicles on the Indiana Toll Road.

The cold wave bulged into the Northeast, abruptly dropping temperatures in New York state into the single digits and below zero - after Tuesday's readings in the 30s, the National Weather Service said. Thermometers read 8 below at Massena, on the St. Lawrence River, with a wind chill of minus 25 degrees.

Commuters in Albany, N.Y., faced a chill of 6 degrees, with brisk wind making it feel like 15 below zero, but some people claimed they didn't mind.

"I'm a cold weather fan," said Jeff Plant of Colonie, N.Y., as he sat reading a newspaper at an Albany coffee shop. "I like to see some cold weather in the winter." Later, he said, he planned to go for a walk "to get some sun."

Temperatures around zero didn't faze truck driver Gary Jacobs, 49, of Barre, Vt., bundled in five layers - T-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, hooded sweatshirt and coat, in addition to snowpants, boots and a knit cap.

"People in Arizona say `It's a dry heat.' This is a fresh cold," Jacobs said.

Near the shore of Lake Superior, Ironwood, Mich., fell to 25 below zero around midnight, then warmed to an 8 a.m. reading of only 8 below, the National Weather Service said.

Farther south, morning temperatures were in the 20s from Texas to Georgia, and along the Gulf Coast the weather service reported a low of just 28 at Mobile, Ala.

Freddie Falgout wore a stocking cap, two pairs of gloves and a heavy leather jacket against the 40-degree chill on his morning three-mile walk in Pensacola Beach, Fla. "It's supposed to be colder tomorrow morning but you'll still me out here, I need the exercise," he said.

Even northern Georgia and Kentucky could see single-digit lows by Friday, with zero possible at Lexington, warned weather service meteorologist John Denman. Kentucky hasn't been that cold since December 2004.

The cold was accompanied by ice and snow that glazed pavement and was blamed for numerous traffic accidents Tuesday from Minnesota to Indiana.

The bitter cold also was blamed for at least one death Tuesday. A 51-year-old man died of exposure in northern Wisconsin after wandering from his home in Hayward when the temperature was 16 below. Deputies said the man's family reported he was prone to sleepwalking.

The cold kept towing and auto repair companies busy across Wisconsin, along with public works crews dealing with frozen pipes and water mains. "We're working basically 24 hours a day with broken mains," said Dave Goldapp with Milwaukee Public Works.

As the coldest air pushed toward the east, there was a slight improvement on the northern Plains, where Grand Forks, N.D., posted a low Wednesday of 24 below zero, up from Tuesday's record low of 37 below. In Minnesota, International Falls dropped to minus 40 on Tuesday.

North Dakota also has been coping with deep snow - more than 60 inches so far this season at Bismarck.

North Dakota highway department snowplow drivers are working overtime to keep pace with the snow. "It's hard on the home life, but we're keeping the roads open," said Mike Stebbins, a snowplow driver for 20 years. Wednesday was his 52nd straight day on the job, and with more snow and wind forecast he didn't see a day off coming anytime soon.

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Associated Press writers Roger Petterson in New York City, Jessica M. Pasko in Albany, N.Y., Melissa Nelson in Pensacola Beach, Fla., and James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D., also contributed to this report.

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