Temperatures dropped as low as 39 degrees below zero Sunday as the arctic cold wave refrigerated the western two-thirds of the nation and edged toward the East with freezing rain and ice that sent cars and trucks sliding.
At the same time, record highs in the 60s and 70s extended from New England to Georgia.
Flooding forced the evacuation of hundreds of people in parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, where nearly a foot of rain had fallen.
At least 60 deaths have been blamed on the weather since the cold began Tuesday. Most were traffic fatalities, but some died of hypothermia or from fires blamed on overworked heaters or fireplaces.
Hardest hit was Texas with 19 deaths, 16 in traffic accidents. Many bridges and roadways across the state were covered by ice up to an inch thick Sunday.
Ice also spread eastward with the advance of the cold. A combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain fell on Indiana late Saturday night and Sunday morning. An ice storm moved into western Kentucky. Freezing rain also swept across Pennsylvania.
The coldest spot in the Lower 48 states was in northwestern Colorado, at Craig, where Sunday’s low was 39 degrees below zero, the National Weather Service said. Denver hit a record 16 below.
Wyoming’s cold spot was Jackson with a reading of 35 below at midmorning and a wind chill of 60 below. Cheyenne was above zero, at 5 degrees, but the wind chill was 39 below.
Arizona, the magnet for thousands of “snow birds” who annually flee colder Northern states, did not have one reporting station with a low above freezing Sunday. Phoenix hit a record 26 degrees, and Tucson dropped to a record 21.
Albuquerque dropped to 7 degrees below zero Sunday, the first time on record the city has gone below zero in December.
The city that bills itself the “Icebox of the Nation,” International Falls, Minn., took Sunday’s low of 29 below in stride. “It’s business as usual--you have no choice up here,” restaurant owner Chris Mostad said Sunday.
The cold air was pressing against a belt of unseasonably warm air along the East Coast and was expected to overrun the Northeast today.
Record highs included 64 at Harrisburg, Pa.; 67 at Newark, N.J.; 65 at Boston; 58 at Burlington, Vt.; 69 at Baltimore; 72 at Atlanta, and 73 at Richmond, Va.
At Topsail Island, N.C., “People are walking around here with shorts and T-shirts on,” said Kevin Hollis.
“It just doesn’t seem like Christmas with this weather,” said Tom Chroniger, hitting baseballs with a friend at Burtonsville, Md.
Citrus growers in southern Texas checked their crops for frost damage from below-freezing temperatures, but there was no immediate word on crop loss.
“I’ve been here in ’83 (during a severe freeze) and it’s not freezing like that at all,” said Burt Purvis, who works on a citrus farm near McAllen.
Too much water, not ice, caused flooding from southern Indiana across Kentucky and Tennessee into Alabama.
In northern Alabama, flooding from nearly a foot of rain from Friday night into Sunday chased dozens of residents from their homes Sunday, and rescue workers scurried to aid motorists stranded on submerged roads.
“We can’t turn the faucet off,” said Fred Keeney, a planner with the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency in Alabama. “We don’t really know how many evacuations. . . . We’ve got a lot of people who have been moved.”
Flooding in southeastern Tennessee forced more than 450 people from their homes, and 600 people were isolated with roads under water and some bridges washed out, authorities said. The Tennessee Valley Authority was releasing water from all of its dams after up to five inches of rain fell in the region overnight.
Dozens of people were evacuated in southeastern Kentucky as streams rose after days of saturating rain.