A person fishes on the Upper Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa, on New Year’s Day. The area, and much of the Midwest, is seeing bitterly cold temperatures to start 2018. (Nicki Kohl/AP)

Bone-chilling cold gripped much of the United States as 2018 began, breaking century-old records.

The National Weather Service issued wind-chill advisories and freeze warnings Tuesday covering a vast area from South Texas to Canada and from Montana through New England. Authorities opened warming shelters in the South as temperatures dipped notably close to zero in Alabama and Georgia.

The cold didn’t stop people from skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington on Sunday. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

In the Washington area, the temperature was expected to sink to 13 degrees early Wednesday morning before rising to 31 by midafternoon, according to the Weather Service.

That's practically balmy compared with what hit much of the Midwest on Monday. Yet low temperatures didn't stop hundreds of people from ringing in the new year by jumping into Lake Michigan. Throngs of people took part in the Polar Plunge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, despite freezing temperatures. Organizers canceled a similar event on the lakefront in Chicago, Illinois, after the temperature there dipped below zero and thick, white vapor rose from the lake.

Commuters in Chicago, Illinois, brave subzero temperatures as they make their way to work Tuesday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Temperatures plunged below zero elsewhere in the Midwest, including in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where the mercury dropped to a record-breaking minus-32. The city's previous New Year's Day record had stood for 99 years.

The Weather Service said temperatures in Indianapolis, Indiana, early Tuesday tied a record low of minus-12 for January 2 set in 1887. Indianapolis Public Schools canceled classes for the day. Students had been scheduled to return from winter break.

Plunging overnight temperatures in Texas brought rare snow flurries as far south as Austin, and accidents occurred on icy roads across the state. In Abilene, the police chief said more than three dozen vehicle crashes were reported in 24 hours.

It's even cold in the Deep South, as temperatures plummeted early Tuesday to 14 in Atlanta, Georgia, and 26 as far south as New Orleans. Warming shelters were opened across the South as freeze watches and warnings blanketed the region.

Washington-area residents shouldn't expect Wednesday's weather to last. By Friday, the Weather Service is predicting highs in the teens with lows possibly in single digits. Still, Washingtonians have seen worse. In early January 1877, the temperature for three days in a row dropped to 3 degrees below zero.