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Live updates: Bitter cold hits Washington, U.S.

A woman bundled against the cold walks past a homeless man in McPherson Square as temperatures dipped into the single digits Tuesday morning in Washington. (Mladen Antonov/Getty Images/AFP)

A woman bundled against the cold walks past a homeless man in McPherson Square as temperatures dipped into the single digits Tuesday morning in Washington. (Mladen Antonov/Getty Images/AFP)


A brutal cold is spreading across the United States, with frigid temperatures in Washington and wind chills below zero across the United States. We’re bringing you the latest on conditions in the Washington region as well as news from across the country.

Winding down our live coverage

We’re going to wind down our live updates now. Make sure to stay with us for the latest on the cold, forecasts and more.

In the meantime, here are some updates you may have missed:

 How cold was it? It was so cold that an escaped prisoner in Kentucky turned himself in to get out of the cold.

 A baby was born in an SUV as the temperatures plummeted.

 So how cold did it really get around the country? Very cold. Seriously, it was so, so cold. (There were historic lows around Washington as well as around the country.)

 But it’s going to warm up!

 The polar vortex caused all of this cold weather. But what is the polar vortex?

 Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed (again).

 This kind of weather event doesn’t bring torrential rains or buckets of snow. Other than how cold it makes us feel, the biggest impact happens under our streets and behind our walls, as pipes freeze and burst.

 Amtrak delays between Washington and New York will linger today, with reduced service between Washington and Boston continuing tomorrow.

 Numbers to call if you see someone in need of shelter.

What does cold look like?

Cold weather looks different to different people depending on where they are, how used to the cold they are and other factors. We gathered photos taken in multiple spots to show how the icy weather looks across the country. (Share your photos on Instagram with the tag #coldsnaps.)

Here’s what it looked like in Detroit:

And here’s the view from Minneapolis:

And here’s another view of Chicago:

For more, head here.

Amtrak plans reduced D.C.-Boston service on Wednesday

Amtrak will again operate fewer trains between Washington and Boston on Wednesday due to the extreme cold, the agency just announced. Acela and Northeast Regional trains will run at a reduced frequency. In addition, riders who use the Empire Service and Keystone Service should expect schedule changes.

How wind chill is calculated

In case you’ve ever wondered how, exactly, the wind chill is calculated, the National Weather Service has an answer — along with a handy chart that lets you calculate the wind chill for yourself. (Just in case you feel like spending this freezing day huddled indoors calculating the wind chill, of course. Anything to stay warm.)

The chart:

And here’s more on how it is determined.

Record low at Dulles, coldest D.C. day since 1996

It took a little longer to determine due to an equipment malfunction, but the National Weather Service has determined that a record-low temperature of 1 degree was measured at Dulles International Airport this morning. The temperature, which was recorded at 7:32 a.m., bests the previous low for this date (8 degrees, set in 1988).

The Capital Weather Gang reports that Washington’s recording stations logged some of the coldest temperatures seen in decades — or ever recorded:

At Reagan National, the low of 6 degrees closed in on the 130 year old mark of 5 degrees. Further north, BWI came in with a low of 3 degrees, colder than the previous record of 8 degrees in 1988…

The low of 6 degrees in D.C., while not a record for the date, is the coldest the city has been since Feb. 5, 1996. Today now also falls among the previous top 20 coldest Jan. mornings in the city since 1946. To pick up record low maximums today, the targets are 18 degrees or lower at D.C., 21 degrees or lower at Dulles, and 22 degrees or lower at BWI.

A busy day for tow truck drivers

It’s been a busy — and chilly — day for Tony Burns, a tow truck driver with AAA who started his shift at 4:30 a.m.

By 11 a.m., he’d responded to nearly a half dozen calls. And in just the 10 minutes it took him to load a 2004 Chrysler Pacifica onto his flatbed truck his sixth call of the day — two more calls had already poured in.

But while Tuesday was cold — the conditions were nothing compared to when he worked through the infamous “Snowmageddon” storms hauling stranded motorists out of bad places in knee — sometimes hip deep — snow, he said.

“Those were tough times,” said the 11-year veteran of hauling and towing. “But today? Very cold and very busy.”

Minneapolis-St. Paul temperature tops zero

It took more than 60 hours, but the temperature in Minneapolis-St. Paul finally inched above zero for the first time since Saturday night:

Dozens of GW Hospital rooms flooded

Dozens of rooms at George Washington Hospital were flooded by water that leaked due to the cold, the hospital said Tuesday.

Leaking pipes on the hospital’s fourth and sixth floors caused flooding that wound up impacting 33 patient rooms at around 11:30 a.m., hospital spokesman Steven Taubenkibel wrote in an e-mail to media members. The hospital moved 23 patients to other rooms in the hospital as a result.

The hospital remains open and all elective surgical procedures, the cardiac catheter lab and radiology procedures are continuing normally, Taubenkibel said.

Family members of the patients who were moved are being called, but any patients with other questions can call 202-715-4000 or 202-715-4194.

Video: East Coast commuters bundle up

Despite the cold, ducking out for a smoke

A construction worker, who identified himself only as Jason, stood outside a set of tinted glass doors and took a drag off of a cigarette.

The spot where he stood was the unofficial smoking area for his work site, an unfinished glass box of a building that is part of the massive City Center project in downtown Washington. A few feet from Jason, another worker in a white hard hat named Shane stood with one hand shoved in a pants pocket and the other one holding a lit cigarette.

They said they are used to working — and smoking — outside in harsh conditions.

“You can deal with rain,” Jason said. But wind chills in the low single digits, they agreed, dictated restraint. ”This is probably the last time we will come out,” Shane said.

Usually, Jason said, he would smoke five cigarettes a day. Today, he would probably smoke only two. Did standing in the freezing cold make them want to quit? They shook their heads. Without looking down, Jason dropped his cigarette and ground it with his foot.

“Quitting doesn’t cross my mind,” he said.

— Annys Shin

The frozen shore of Long Island

Amtrak warns riders to expect lingering delays

Amtrak trains between Washington and New York have been delayed today due to a problem with the overhead wires near Trenton, N.J. Only one of four tracks on a 20-mile stretch between Trenton and Holmesburg, Penn., was open for trains earlier today.

The rail agency announced that three of the four tracks are now open, but warned riders to be ready for delays to remain in this area for most of the day. In addition to these delays, Amtrak has been running fewer trains between Washington and Boston due to the extreme cold.

Polar vortex food and drink specials

When there’s a weather event, there are people who aren’t at work or are just looking for a place to stay warm. And when that happens, these people need cheap food and drink options. Several bars and restaurants in the area have offered such deals, ranging from free soup or vodka to discounted drinks and food. Read more at the Going Out Guide.

Surge in broken water pipes

Water utility crews struggled to keep up with breaking pipes, particularly in the Maryland suburbs, where 38 water mains burst in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties on Tuesday. Eight of those 38 breaks were reported during a 90-minute period mid-day, officials said.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which provides water to Montgomery and Prince George’s, said repairs were taking longer than the typical four to six hours because crews had to be rotated in and out of the severe cold. And the 38 pipe breaks undergoing repairs Tuesday compared to an average eight breaks for a typical January day, said spokeswoman Lyn Riggins.

Aging, brittle water pipes break when the temperature of the water pumped into them from local rivers fluctuates, causing their weakened walls to expand or contract. The Potomac River dropped from 37.7 degrees at 8 p.m. Monday to 34.6 degrees by 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Riggins said.

In the District, workers were trying to find the source of a pipe leak at 17th and T streets Southeast, said DC Water spokeswoman Pamela Mooring. However, the utility would only send crews into the cold for repairs in an emergency, she said. A salt truck was also sent to the scene to treat ice forming from the leak, she said.

No pipes had burst Tuesday, Mooring said, but the utility fixed a leaking pipe in Southeast and a broken water main on New York Avenue Northwest on Monday night.

DC Water also has begun receiving calls from residents complaining of low water pressure, Mooring said. Water pressure drops, she said, as a house’s or building’s own pipes begin to freeze. DC Water also has received numerous complaints of pipes freezing and bursting on vacant properties, Mooring said. Information on how to prevent a home’s or other building’s water pipes from freezing is available at www.dcwater.com/freezingpipes.

Between midnight Monday and 1 p.m. Tuesday, DC Water fielded 550 calls from customers reporting freezing pipes or low water pressure likely caused by pipes beginning to freeze up, Mooring said. During the same time, the utility received nine reports of pipes on vacant properties breaking and causing a nuisance or hazard, Mooring said. DC Water crews turned off water to those buildings, she said.

— Katherine Shaver

Cold delays opening of I-395/95 HOV lanes

The cold weather is also impacting drivers who normally use the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstates 395/95. These lanes are normally opened to southbound traffic on weekdays between 1 and 3:30 p.m. (and again from 6 p.m. to midnight). But the freezing temperatures aren’t allowing the gate motors to operate properly, so crews have to manually set the gates this afternoon, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. The lanes should open for southbound traffic by about 2:30 p.m.

Where heat escapes your house

Now that the frigid cold has fully enveloped Washington, you’re more likely to notice if any heat escapes your home. Here’s a useful tool that shows you where the heat is escaping — and offers tips for properly weatherstripping your house.

Four Montgomery Co. schools close early

In Tuesday’s bitter cold, four Montgomery County schools were closed early because of problems with power, heat or water pipes.

Power went out at two Montgomery County elementary schools–Jackson Road in Silver Spring and Capt. James Daly in Germantown. The schools had no power Tuesday morning and decisions were made to close the schools as officials realized that power would not be restored in short order, said schools spokesman Dana Tofig.

By 10:15 am, parents had been notified and buses were starting to roll at Jackson Road in Silver Spring, he said. Similar efforts were under way shortly afterward at Daly, in Germantown. At both schools, students were faring well in spite of the outages, Tofig said.

“They have coats on and stuff, but they’re doing fine,” he said.

After noon, both White Oak Middle School in Silver Spring and Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville closed. White Oak had problems with pipes that burst, and Magruder lost heat in part of the building, officials said.

Earlier in the day, a fire alarm went off at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, apparently because of a malfunctioning water pipe. Students were evacuated to the outdoors for 10 minutes, school officials said. Some were without coats, according to a parent, before the building was deemed safe.

Overall, the problems were more than a typical day but relatively few in a system of 202 schools, Tofig said. “Our schools are accustomed to operating in the cold,” he said. “For the most part, it’s been a normal instructional day.”

— Donna St. George

Thousands of flights canceled, delayed

Airport crews work to de-ice planes at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Jan. 5. (Nam Y. Huh/The Associated Press)

Frigid cold across the United States continued to wreak havoc on air travel, leading to thousands of flights being delayed or canceled Tuesday.

As of noon Tuesday, more than 2,200 flights had been canceled and 1,900 flights delayed, according to FlightAware. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was particularly hard-hit, with more than 750 cancellations at the key hub, while nearby Midway International Airport had 180 flights canceled.

In Washington, more than 200 flights through the region’s three major airports — Reagan National, Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International — were grounded. The problems also were felt in New York, Cleveland and Boston, with hundreds of flights through those cities nixed.

The delays are merely the latest in a string of problems in recent days. Travelers endured thousands of canceled flights on Monday as temperatures plunged, which followed thousands of cancellations last week stemming from the winter storm that pounded the Midwest and Northeast.

The cold temperatures make it difficult for airlines to refuel planes or have ground crews outside long enough to do other work. “We are unable to pump fuel and or de-ice,” Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Airlines Group, told Reuters.

On Monday, JetBlue announced that it was going to reduce operations at New York’s three airports (LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International and Newark International) and Boston’s Logan International Airport from 1 p.m. that day through 10 a.m. Tuesday. The airline said in a statement that it hopes to be back to normal operations by 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Airlines are waiving fees for travelers rebooking flights, continuing what they have done since the headaches began last week.

Explaining the polar vortex

The polar vortex that has dropped temperatures across the United States may sound ominous or foreboding, but it’s fairly easy to understand, as the Capital Weather Gang explains here:

As eerie as it sounds, there is no need to dramatize the polar vortex. It is not new. We have faced bitterly cold air before, and we will face it again.

The polar vortex is really just a large air mass that is extremely cold (temperatures fall below -78C, or -108F, during the Northern Hemisphere winter). This concentrated area of cold is encircled by a fast-flowing river of air called the polar night jet. Basically, the jet – with its swiftly moving air current – traps the vortex over and near the poles, north and south.

Read more over at Capital Weather Gang.

Escaped prisoner turns self in to avoid cold

The low temperatures have broken records and delayed flights, sure. But the cold is also responsible for this story out of Kentucky, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Just how cold is it in Kentucky? Apparently cold enough for an escaped prisoner to decide to turn himself in.

Authorities said the inmate escaped from a minimum security facility in Lexington on Sunday. As temperatures dropped into the low single digits Monday, officials say the man walked into a motel and asked the clerk to call police.

Robert Vick, 42, of Hartford told the clerk he wanted to turn himself in and escape the arctic air, Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.

Vick was checked out by paramedics and returned to Blackburn Correctional Complex, Roberts said.

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