2018 starts with record cold from South Texas to Canada, Montana to Maine

Steam rises from Lake Superior as the ship St. Clair comes to harbor during some of the coldest temps of the year, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, at Canal Park in Duluth, Minn. The St. Clair is a self-unloader built in 1976 at Sturgeon Bay, Wis., and is 770 feet long and has 26 hatches that open into 5 cargo holds, providing a load capacity of 45,000 tons. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Bone-chilling cold gripped much of the middle of the U.S. as 2018 began Monday, breaking low temperature records, icing some New Year's celebrations and leading to at least two deaths attributed to exposure to the elements.

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 to the northern tip of Maine.

Dangerously low temperatures enveloped eight Midwest states including parts of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Nebraska along with nearly all of Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.

The mercury plunged to a record-breaking minus 32 (-36 Celsius) in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where the previous New Year's Day record had stood for 99 years. In Nebraska, temperatures hit 15 below zero (-26 Celsius) in Omaha before midnight Sunday, breaking a record low dating to 1884.

Omaha's reading didn't include the wind chill effect, which could plunge to negative 40 degrees (-40 Celsius), according to the weather service. Omaha officials cited the forecast in postponing the 18th annual New Year's Eve Fireworks Spectacular that draws around 30,000 people.

It was even colder in Des Moines, where city officials closed a downtown outdoor ice skating plaza and said it won't reopen until the city emerges 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).

Steam rose up from Lake Superior as a ship moved through a harbor where ice was forming in Duluth, Minnesota, where the wind chill dipped to 36 below zero (-38 Celsius). In northeast Montana, the wind chill readings dipped as low as minus 58 (-50 Celsius).

Despite a warning from the local fire chief about possible hypothermia, Milwaukee's loosely organized annual Polar Bear Plunge into Lake Michigan proceeded Monday with temperatures just above freezing. At least one other similar event in another Wisconsin city was canceled, and a dip into the lake in Chicago -- where temperatures fell below zero -- was postponed.

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.

It's 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 Examiner's 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. Autopsies are being performed on both men. Police believe the cold weather may have been a factor in the death of a man in Bismarck, North Dakota, whose body was found near a river.

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