Bitterly cold air covered the Deep South yesterday after a night of snow as far south as northern Florida and New Orleans, and more than a dozen cities from Alabama to Maine shivered with record-low temperatures.

"It's more {snow} than I've ever seen. I'm 26 years old and I built my first snowman," said police dispatcher Christella Cullivan in Louisiana's Evangeline Parish.

The sky was sunny over the South yesterday, but by late morning the temperature at Biloxi, Miss., on the Gulf of Mexico, was only 34 degrees.

Low temperatures covered the entire nation east of the Rockies, and readings were below zero from the northern Plains to northern New England, the National Weather Service said.

Record lows included 10 degrees at Huntsville, Ala.; 15 at Wichita Falls, Tex.; 5 at Nashville; zero at Lexington, Ky.; 4 at Calico Rock, Ark.; 5 below zero at Hartford, Conn.; and 13 below at Portland, Maine, the weather service reported.

"You've just got to ignore it. We just dress real warm and keep going," said Regan Dlugosh, an attendant at a gas station in Little Rock, Ark., which had a record low of 10 degrees. He said customers were using self-service gas pumps less than usual.

Meteorologists said the overnight and Sunday morning temperatures could be as cold or colder. "It looks like this is going to be the coldest we've had this year or last," said weather service forecaster Dick Matthews in Columbia, S.C. Readings could range from the teens along the coast to 5 degrees in the mountains, he said.

In Alabama, the weather service warned farmers and nursery operators to protect livestock and plants.

Large sections of Interstates 10, 12 and 55 were closed overnight in southeastern Louisiana because of ice. And some southern drivers unaccustomed to icy streets found themselves in traffic accidents. Two traffic deaths in Alabama were blamed on the ice.

"People won't stay home. They just ride around and wreck," said a deputy sheriff in Pearl River County, Miss.

Only a trace of snow was visible in New Orleans, where the last recorded trace was on Jan. 14, 1981, but about 2 inches was on the ground in Baton Rouge.

An inch of snow that fell on the northwest corner of Florida disappeared when the sun rose yesterday, but a hard freeze warning was posted for last night in the north.

The sleet, snow and brisk wind canceled the first three major Mardi Gras parades of New Orleans' Carnival season, along with a Mardi Gras parade at Mobile, Ala.