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'Polar vortex' brings record low temperatures

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The so-called polar vortex continued its frigid march across the U.S. on Tuesday, bringing record lows to the East Coast and parts of the South.

Fountains froze in typically balmier states like South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Texas. New York City reached a record low of 4 degrees. Farther south, Atlanta broke its record with a low of 6 degrees.

Pipes burst in areas where homes were insufficiently insulated, said Ryan Willis, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Atlanta.

"The population here is not acclimated to temperatures that cold," he said.

Nashville got down to 2 degrees Tuesday, and its schools were expected to remain closed Wednesday because of frozen and broken pipes.

Travel woes continued, with more than 2,600 flights canceled across the U.S., according to FlightAware.com. Amtrak service was delayed as the Northeast shivered.

Meanwhile, the Midwest embraced a warming trend of sorts. In Chicago, temperatures nosed above zero for the first time in 37 hours, from minus 11 Tuesday morning to 3 above by midafternoon.

"Get the swimsuit out," joked National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Krein.

"The worst of the cold is probably behind us at this point," he added.

The South was looking forward to relief too. Atlanta was expecting a low of 15 degrees Tuesday night, Willis said, "but after that, we're good to go."

The easing temperatures won't help a Kentucky prison inmate, who mistimed his escape.

Maurice King, manager of the Sunset Motel in Lexington, heard a knock on the motel door Monday morning.

Robert Vick stood outside, in a wind chill of about 18 below zero, wearing torn jeans and a khaki prison jumpsuit. Authorities said he'd escaped from Blackburn Correctional Complex about three miles away.

"I answered the door and he said, 'Call the law on me,' and I looked at him kind of silly, and he said, 'Well, I'm the one who escaped from Blackburn,'" King said. "He said, 'I've got to turn myself in, I'm froze to death.'"

Unfortunately for Vick, 42, the arctic air mass had invaded Kentucky.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature was 44 about the time of Vick's escape Sunday night, but it dropped to nearly zero by the next morning.

"He had no heat at all," King said. "He told me he took his socks off because they were wet, and when he got up that morning, they were froze solid."

Police eventually arrived to pick up Vick, who had been serving a six-year prison sentence for burglary and criminal possession of a forged document.

matt.pearce@latimes.com

The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

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