NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A persistent arctic chill tightened its grip on the nation Wednesday and reached deep into the South, where it was blamed for at least five deaths and threatened to freeze crops and bring snow to places more accustomed to winter sunshine.
The deep freeze was expected to linger through the weekend. The National Weather Service expected the heaviest snow from the fast-moving system to fall on Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, with 4-6 inches predicted along with some locally heavier amounts Wednesday afternoon through Thursday.
In a rare turn for the South, forecasters warned that snow and ice were possible Thursday from South Carolina to Louisiana and wind chills in the region could get down to near zero at night.
"This air mass originated on the ice cap at the top of the world," said Bobby Boyd, a weather service forecaster in Nashville. He said the cold shot wouldn't be spent until it plunged southeastward and moved well beyond Cuba into the Caribbean.
In Maine, a pilot died Monday after he reported ice buildup on the wings of his small plane and it crashed into a river channel. Searchers were also looking for an 18-year-old snowmobiler who disappeared on New Year's Day. And in Wisconsin a 7-year-old boy died when he fell through ice into a river while sledding with friends.
Southern supermarkets were doing a brisk business in staples like bread and milk.
Ann Warden of Brentwood, Tenn., loaded eight grocery bags into the trunk of her black luxury car Wednesday morning and worried about a snowy forecast.
"You know Nashville gets paralyzed with just one snowflake," she said. "I couldn't be caught without milk. And I got some nice wine at the liquor store."
In central and south Florida, farmers were trying to salvage citrus and vegetable crops by spraying them in protective layers of ice and covering them in plastic.
It was so cold in Florida, freezing iguanas were seen falling out of trees.
In coastal North Carolina, volunteers were scrambling to save endangered sea turtles that were stunned by the cold and stranded off the Outer Banks.