Deaths reported as bone-chilling cold grips wide swath of U.S. (w/video)

Published January 2
Updated January 2

MILWAUKEE ó Bone-chilling cold has gripped much of the central U.S. as 2018 opens, breaking century-old records and leading to at least two deaths attributed to exposure to the dangerously low temperatures.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories covering a vast area from south Texas to Canada and from Montana and Wyoming through New England. The bitter cold wave enveloped much of the Midwest, yet that didnít deter hundreds of people from ringing in the new year by jumping into Lake Michigan.

Despite sub-freezing temperatures and a warning of potential hypothermia from the local fire chief, throngs of people took part in the annual Milwaukee tradition Monday. But a similar event was canceled from the Chicago lakefront, where the temperature dipped below zero as thick white steam rose from the lake. Organizers said the arctic blast made jumping into the lake too dangerous.

Temperatures plunged below zero elsewhere in the Midwest, including in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where the mercury dropped to a record-breaking minus 32 (-36 Celsius). The previous New Yearís Day record had stood for 99 years.

RELATED: Freezing temperatures expected to linger in Tampa Bay all week

Locally, the first week of 2018 is bringing temperatures about 20 degrees lower than the average for the Tampa Bay area.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory Monday night until 10 a.m. Tuesday, citing "unseasonably cold air and gusty north winds" that could drop wind chills below 35 degrees over much of the Tampa Bay area.

That cold weather isnít going anywhere anytime soon, either, as the coldest temperatures will move in Wednesday night and linger in the region through the weekend, forecasters said.

In Nebraska, temperatures hit 15 below zero (-26 Celsius) before midnight Sunday in Omaha, breaking a record low dating to 1884. Omaha officials cited the forecast in postponing the 18th annual New Yearís Eve Fireworks Spectacular that draws around 30,000 people.

It was colder in Des Moines, Iowa, where city officials closed a downtown outdoor ice skating plaza and said it wouldnít reopen until the city emerged from sub-zero temperatures. The temperature hit 20 below zero (-29 Celsius) early Monday, with the wind chill dipping to negative 31 degrees (-35 Celsius).

Indianapolis Public Schools canceled classes for Tuesday on all its campuses due to the predicted sub-zero temperatures. Students had been scheduled to return from winter break.

In northeastern Montana, the wind chill readings dipped as low as minus 58 (-50 Celsius). And in Duluth, Minnesota, a city known for its bitter cold winters, the wind chill dipped to 36 below zero (-38 Celsius).

Plunging overnight temperatures in Texas brought rare snow flurries as far south as Austin, and accidents racked up on icy roads across the state. In the central Texas city of Abilene, the local police chief said more than three dozen vehicle crashes were reported in 24 hours.

RELATED: Cold weather shelters open in Pasco, Hillsborough as temps drop near freezing

Itís even cold in the Deep South, a region more accustomed to brief bursts of arctic air than night after night below zero. Frozen pipes and dead car batteries were concerns from Louisiana to Georgia as overnight temperatures in the teens were predicted across the region by Monday night.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examinerís Office said two bodies found Sunday showed signs of hypothermia. They included a man in his 50s found on the ground in an alley and a 34-year-old man. Police believe the cold weather also may have been a factor in the death of a man in Bismarck, North Dakota, whose body was found near a river.