MILWAUKEE — Bone-chilling cold gripped much of the United States as 2018 began Monday, breaking century-old records, icing over some New Year’s celebrations, and leading to at least two deaths attributed to exposure to the elements.
The National Weather Service issued windchill advisories covering a vast area from South Texas to Canada, and from Montana through New England. Dangerously low temperatures enveloped much of the Midwest.
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.
Police believe the cold weather also may have been a factor in the death of a man in Bismarck, N.D., whose body was found near a river.
The cold didn’t deter hundreds of people from ringing in the new year by jumping into Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. Despite subfreezing temperatures and a warning of potential hypothermia from the local fire chief, throngs of people took part in the annual tradition, warming up later with chili or heat from a beach fire pit.
A similar event was canceled from the Chicago lakefront, where the temperature dipped below zero as thick white steam rose from the lake Monday morning. Organizers said the arctic blast made jumping into the lake too dangerous.
‘‘I’m not happy about it. But I was down by the lake and, gosh, if you were dropped in there, it’d take you 10 minutes to get out,’’ Jeff Coggins, who helped organize the thwarted Chicago event, told WBBM-TV.
Instead, would-be Chicago plungers had their pictures taken while jumping on the frozen beach — in their swimsuits.
Temperatures plunged below zero elsewhere in the Midwest, including in Aberdeen, S.D., where the mercury dropped to a record-breaking minus 32. The previous New Year’s Day record there had stood for 99 years.
In Nebraska, temperatures hit 15 below zero before midnight Sunday in Omaha, breaking a record low dating to 1884. Omaha officials cited the forecast in postponing an annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show.
It was colder in Des Moines, where city officials closed a downtown outdoor ice skating plaza and said it wouldn’t reopen until the city emerged from sub-zero temperatures. The temperature hit 20 below zero early Monday, with the windchill dipping to negative 31 degrees.
In northeastern Montana, the windchill readings dipped as low as minus 58. And in Duluth, Minn., a city known for its severely cold winters, the windchill dipped to 36 below zero.
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.
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