Big freeze shatters North America temperature records

BBC's Mark Mardell: "After a few minutes outside it's really painful to breathe"

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Weather records have tumbled across North America, with freezing temperatures even in the southern US.

The most extreme arctic blasts, blamed on a weather pattern known as the polar vortex, were said to have affected nearly 190 million people.

In Kentucky, an escaped prisoner turned himself in to get out of the cold.

Some parts of the Midwest hit -26C (-14F), as low as the Antarctic coast in winter, and much colder than the inside of a domestic freezer.

Temperature records were shattered in states across the US, including Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

It was -17C (1F) in the small town of Hell, Michigan, prompting online jokes that the weather was so bad even hell had frozen over.

The unprecedented freeze comes after a year of extreme weather episodes across the globe

Colder than Mars

But it was Embarrass, Minnesota, that experienced the lowest temperature in the nation on Tuesday: -37C (-35F).

That was colder than readings recently recorded on the Red Planet by the Mars Rover.

A video of a meteorologist tossing a pot of boiling water into the air in Wisconsin, to demonstrate how it immediately turns to snow, quickly went viral on the internet and was widely imitated.

A woman in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was taken to hospital with severe burns after she slipped on ice while attempting the trick, spilling boiling water on herself, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.

Weather map showing how the polar vortex is bringing freezing weather to the US
Weather map showing how the polar vortex is bringing freezing weather to the US
Weather map showing how the polar vortex is bringing freezing weather to the US
A NOAA satellite image taken on 8 January shows a strong cold front extending from the Northern Atlantic into Florida A NOAA satellite image shows a strong cold front extending from the Northern Atlantic into Florida
A man works to remove snow on the sidewalk in Muskegon Heights, Michigan A man works to remove snow on the sidewalk in Muskegon Heights, Michigan
The frozen mist from Niagara Falls coats the landscape around Prospect Point at Niagara Falls State Park A frozen mist from Niagara Falls coats the landscape at Niagara Falls State Park
Ice forms on the shore of the East River due to unusually low temperatures caused by a Polar Vortex in New York Ice forms on the shore of the East River due to unusually low temperatures in New York

The extreme weather resulted in the usual travel chaos - nearly 2,700 US flights were cancelled on Tuesday.

More than 500 rail passengers on their way to Chicago were marooned overnight into Tuesday morning in northern Illinois on three Amtrak passenger trains after drifting snow and ice covered the tracks.

Southern discomfort

What can you wear to help cope with extreme cold weather?

The big freeze was even testing the resolve of Canadians, no strangers to cold weather.

Temperatures in parts of Ontario fell to -30C (-22F), causing flights in and out of Pearson International Airport to be halted for several hours on Tuesday morning.

Roads in the cities of Toronto and Ottawa were coated in dangerous black ice.

Freezing temperatures were recorded even in usually mild southern states.

Map showing how temperatures across the US at the beginning of January 2014 have differed from the average temperatures

In northern Florida temperatures briefly dropped below freezing.

Atlanta, Georgia, was 25 degrees below average for this time of year.

"I didn't think the South got this cold," Marty Williams, a homeless man in the city, told the Associated Press news agency.

"That was the main reason for me to come down from up North, from the cold, to get away from all that stuff."

People in the Midwest are still digging out from two massive snow storms recently which dumped more than 2ft (61cm) of snow.

A reprieve is expected soon, however, with forecasters predicting temperatures above freezing for much of the US in the coming days.

A tug boat navigates the frozen Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri A tug boat navigates the frozen Mississippi River in St Louis, Missouri
A sculpture near a walking path is covered in snow in Carmel, Indiana, north of Indianapolis A sculpture near a walking path is covered in snow in Carmel, Indiana, north of Indianapolis
A man walks down a snow covered street in Hamburg, New York on 7 January 2014 A man braves the freezing temperatures in Hamburg, New York state
A man warms himself near a fire in Indianapolis, Indiana, on 7 January 2014 A man warms himself before a fire in Indianapolis, Indiana

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