Record-breaking cold closes U.S. schools, sends penguins inside

Northeast Regional Weather Forecast

(Reuters) - Record-breaking cold that gripped the U.S. East and Midwest on Thursday snarled travel, shut schools, filled homeless shelters and even led to zoo penguins being ordered inside.

Snow expected to accumulate to 3 feet (1 meter) deep was falling in upstate New York near Watertown, and snow already blanketing South Dakota was whipped by winds into a "ground blizzard" that made driving treacherous, said meteorologist Dan Petersen of the National Weather Service.

The coldest place in the country on Thursday was Estcourt Station, the northernmost point in Maine, with temperatures of minus 38 degrees F (minus 39 C), he said.

Records were broken from Montpelier, Vermont, at minus 20 F (minus 29 C), to Jackson, Kentucky, with minus 1 F (minus 18 C), he said. Snow flurries were reported as far south as Jacksonville, Florida.

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Winter Weather: First week of January 2015
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Record-breaking cold closes U.S. schools, sends penguins inside
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 08: People sit on a steam grate to keep warm, January 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Washington area is experiencing a cold snap with temperatures in the single digits and teens. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 07: Ice builds up along North Avenue Pier while temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit on January 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Most of the city's schools were cancelled today as wind chill temperatures were expected to exceed -30. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 07: Ice builds up along North Avenue Pier while temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit on January 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Most of the city's schools were cancelled today as wind chill temperatures were expected to exceed -30. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: People are windblown as they walk near the frozen reflecting pool in front of the U.S. Capitol on January 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Washington area is experiencing heavy winds with temperatures in the teens. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
A man bundles up against the cold on 14th Street near Union Square January 7, 2015 in New York. Cold temperatures and high winds brought the wind chill factor well below zero. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 07: Ice builds up along North Avenue Pier while temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit on January 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Most of the city's schools were cancelled today as wind chill temperatures were expected to exceed -30. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A woman wearing heavy winter coat walks along a street in New York on January 7, 2015. A series of arctic air masses is expected to send temperatures 10-35 degrees below average for early January, with highs ranging from near zero to the teens and 20s across a wide swath of the US. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
MYERSVILLE, MD - JANUARY 6 : Motorists are seen traveling on a snow covered Interstate 70 on January 6, 2015 in Myersville, Md. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 6: Motorists and pedestrians cope with the first snow storm during Tuesday morning commute in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2015. (Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 05: Commuters make their way to work as temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit during the morning rush on January 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Temperatures are expected to remain in the single digits today and three to six inches of snow are expected to fall this evening. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 05: Commuters make their way to work as temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit during the morning rush on January 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Temperatures are expected to remain in the single digits today and three to six inches of snow are expected to fall this evening. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 05: Commuters make their way to work as temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit during the morning rush on January 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Temperatures are expected to remain in the single digits today and three to six inches of snow are expected to fall this evening. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 05: Commuters cross the Chicago River on their way to work as temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit during the morning rush on January 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Temperatures are expected to remain in the single digits today and three to six inches of snow are expected to fall this evening. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 05: A commuter makes her way to work as temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit during the morning rush on January 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Temperatures are expected to remain in the single digits today and three to six inches of snow are expected to fall this evening. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 05: Commuters make their way to work as temperatures hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit during the morning rush on January 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Temperatures are expected to remain in the single digits today and three to six inches of snow are expected to fall this evening. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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"It's the face, it's like being hit with a sheet of ice," Bart Adlam, 40, president of U.S. yogurt supplier siggi's, said as he rode a bike through Times Square on his way to work at 8 a.m. in New York. The wind chill there made 9 degrees F (minus 12 C) feel like 2 below (minus 18 C), according to Weather.com.

Cold bitter enough to freeze fuel lines on school buses forced schools to close from Portland, Maine, to Chicago. Train rails cracked by the cold caused delays for commuters in Washington, D.C. Weather also hung up U.S. air travel with 1,937 delays and 515 cancellations by mid-afternoon, according to FlightAware.com.

In Pittsburgh, two baby African penguins were moved indoors at the National Aviary, where the endangered animals that are native to South Africa will remain until temperatures rise.

Frostbite could set in with just 15 minutes' exposure to the frigid air, the weather service said, advising people to keep pets indoors.

'THREE PAIRS OF SOCKS'

In Boston, incoming Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker shortened the outdoor portion of his inauguration ceremony out of concern it was too cold for spectators, a spokesman said.

"It's cold but I'm bundled up," said Willie Council, 65, a homeless man rocking back and forth to stay warm on K Street, Washington's corridor for lobbyists and lawyers. "I've got on three pairs of socks but I don't have any boots."

Chicago's biggest homeless shelter filled its beds to capacity, putting some of the overflow crowd on mattresses on the floor while others spent the night on the streets.

Even sledding hills around Chicago and ice-skating rinks in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, were shut down because of risk of wind chill, while Maine's Sugarloaf Mountain closed ski trails because of "Arctic conditions."

Temperatures also plummeted to an uncharacteristic 10 to 15 degrees F (minus 12 C to minus 9 C) overnight across the Gulf Coast. In South Carolina, the odd snowflake on the beach drew excited observers outside to watch in wonder. (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York, Scott Malone in Boston, Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Todd Epp in Sioux Falls, Ian Simpson in Washington, Dave Sherwood in Maine and Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C.; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Bill Trott, Eric Walsh and Peter Cooney)

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