Too cool for school as arctic air sends the mercury plunging
How cold is it across the U.S.? Too cool for school in many parts of the country. And so frigid in the Minnesota-St. Paul area that you could get frostbite in less time than it takes to buy car insurance.
At least the Northeast isn't getting clobbered with snow the way it was this time last year.
A look at the blast of dangerously cold air that is dropping temperatures into the single digits and sending wind-chill readings below zero, even in the Deep South:
WATCH THOSE FINGERS AND TOES!
With wind chills plunging into the minus-30s to the minus-50s across Minnesota on Wednesday, Dr. Ryan Fey of the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis warned that serious frostbite injuries can happen in 10 minutes or less.
Wet gloves, socks or boots speed up the process. So do smoking and medical conditions that cause poor circulation, such as diabetes. And the thinner skin of elderly people and children makes them more vulnerable, he said.
College student Jordan Harrell, 23, wore a stocking cap and pulled his coat up around his neck as he walked to work in downtown Minneapolis.
"I have wool socks on, so that's nice. And that's basically how I prepare. And then, you know, just have a tough mentality," he said. "It's a Minnesota tough mentality."
YOU HAVE NO CLASS
The arctic chill prompted school closings or delayed openings from Alabama to the Dakotas.
Many school systems decided to let it warm up a little before making children stand outside and wait for their buses. They also hoped to avoid overtaxing school heating systems and allow more time for buses to get running.
Wind-chill readings below zero were forecast in such places as Alabama and Asheville, North Carolina, along with a wide swath of the Midwest and the Plains.
In the Birmingham, Alabama, area, Jefferson County School Superintendent Craig Pouncey warned that the buses are vulnerable when the mercury falls to 20 or lower.
"Our buses still are pretty dependable about cranking, but sometimes the moisture in the air brakes may freeze, so we've got to be conscious of that," Pouncey told AL.com.
As for warming up your own car, police in Omaha, Nebraska, warned people not to leave their vehicles running unattended. Police told KMTV that 13 vehicles that had been left idling were reported stolen in an eight-hour span Tuesday morning.
HEY, IT COULD BE WORSE
Temperatures are expected to drop to zero or below in southern New England and to 7 above in New York City, with wind chills getting into the minus-20s in some places. But little or no snow is forecast for most of the Northeast.
And to think: Around this time last year, parts of the region were digging out from 2 feet of snow accompanied by brutal polar air.
In fact, this season's snowfall totals are way down from last year, one of the snowiest seasons on record.
Last year, Philadelphia, New York and Boston all got around 5 feet of snow from December through February, or about 1 to 2 feet more than normal. This year, they've seen only a few inches of snow since Dec. 1.
Western New York is another story. The Buffalo area got slammed with more than 7 feet of snow in November and saw another foot on Tuesday, with more expected Wednesday.
Still, the snow-free cold is no day at the beach.
"I hate it. I can't wait for spring," Rosalie Kahler said with a laugh in Albany, New York, where temperatures were expected to drop to single digits by sunset.
MEANWHILE, IN PARADISE
While the rest of the country is bundling up, Southern California is enjoying a record-breaking winter heat wave, with highs in the 80s.
Museum curator Kimberly Meyer, 51, took full advantage of the sun along with other swimmers at the outdoor pools at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center in Pasadena.
"My poor parents are in Madison, Wisconsin, freezing," she said. "So I know exactly how it is, and that's why we live here. It's because you can swim outside all year round, which is fantastic."
Southern California's winters are usually in the mid-40s, with highs in the 60s. The aquatics center's pools are heated, but that wasn't necessary Wednesday.
Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis; Raquel Maria Dillon in Los Angeles; and Mike Hill in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.