Updated: 5:27 p.m. | Posted: 6:15 a.m.
Freezing temperatures and below-zero wind chills socked much of the northern United States on Wednesday, even setting a record in a Minnesota city so cold it's called the Icebox of the Nation, and will stay put for days to come as snow-hardened Erie digs out from a record snowfall.
Forecasters warned of hypothermia and frostbite from arctic air settling in over the central U.S. and spreading east.
The National Weather Service reported International Falls and Hibbing, Minnesota, set record low temperatures on Wednesday morning. International Falls, the self-proclaimed Icebox of the Nation, plunged to 37 degrees below zero, breaking the old record of 32 below set in 1924. Hibbing bottomed out at 28 below, breaking the old record of 27 below set in 1964.
Wind chill advisories or warnings were in effect for much of New England, northern Pennsylvania and New York. Those places and states in the northern Plains and Great Lakes were projected to see highs in the teens or single digits and lows below zero for the rest of the week and into the new year.
The National Weather Service said wind chills in many areas Thursday could make temperatures feel below zero.
Meanwhile, Erie was recovering from a storm that brought 34 inches of snow on Christmas Day, smashing the daily snowfall record for the Great Lakes city of 8 inches, and 26.5 more inches on Tuesday. More than 65 inches have fallen on the city since Christmas Eve, with several more inches falling Wednesday as residents dug out in frigid temperatures.
Strong westerly winds over Lake Erie picked up moisture, developed into snow and converged with opposing winds, dumping snow in a band along the shore from Ohio to New York, said Zach Sefcovic, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Cleveland.
Sabrina Ram drove into Erie on Christmas Eve to visit her parents just as the snow began to fall. Ram, who lives in suburban Washington, D.C., and her father spent five hours on Christmas and two hours on Tuesday clearing the driveway.
"In D.C., we'd be out of commission for weeks," Ram said. "Things here are pretty much back to normal now."
She said she was going to build a snowman but didn't know where to start — "where do you put it?" — and she went outside to clear off the satellite dish before falling face first into the snow because she couldn't figure out where the porch ended.
"I totally just flew forward while my dad laughed at me," Ram said.
In New York, communities near Lake Ontario's eastern end, including Redfield and Boylston, also saw around 5 feet of snow this week.
The storm's timing was good, since people were off the streets and staying home for Christmas, giving plows more space to clear streets, officials said.
By Wednesday, Erie's roads were relatively clear, emergency calls were relatively slow and the big task was digging out, County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper said.
"We're used to a lot of snow here in Erie, but this is unprecedented, the amount we got," Dahlkemper said.
In Millcreek, outside Erie, it took Kathleen Palkovic and her son two hours to shovel out so she could make it to her waitressing job. The 5-mile (8-kilometer) drive to Dave's Diner in downtown Erie took an hour. Palkovic and the cook opened the restaurant at a little after 6 a.m. in single-digit temperatures.
"We're dedicated people, I guess," Palkovic said.
Something else helped: "It took 800 milligrams of ibuprofen after all that to get me to work."