Winter System Drops Record Snow, Chills the South

January 4, 2010

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A bitter chill is settling in across the
eastern half of the country, threatening crops, closing schools and
making Charleston, S.C., feel more like New York City.

Records snows were reported over the weekend in Vermont, and
farmers in Florida scrambled Monday to save strawberries and
tomatoes.

The deep freeze will last for at least the rest of the week. The
National Weather Service said the mercury could fall below zero in
St. Louis later this week for the first time since 1999.

In Burlington, Vt., a weekend snowstorm dumped more than 33
inches, breaking a single-storm record of nearly 30 inches set in
1969.

Most took it in stride, but some took it too far: Vermont State
Police cited a man after stopping him pulling a sled - with a rider
in it - behind his car on Interstate 89 on Sunday. He was cited for
driving with a suspended license.

It was a similar scene in upstate New York, where so-called
"lake effect snow" blanketed parts of the state with more than 3
feet.

In Maine, the search continued for an 18-year-old snowmobiler
who disappeared shortly after the storm started Friday night, and a
small plane crashed into a river channel there Monday after
reporting ice buildup on the wings.

The weather caused hundreds of school closings and delays in
Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the North Carolina mountains.

Homeless shelters, especially in the Southeast, braced for a
crush of people and said they would not turn anyone away.

In Florida, farmers prepared for a long week trying to protect
their crops. In Polk County - between Tampa and Orlando -
temperatures were in the high 20s and strawberry farmers turned on
sprinklers to create an insulation of ice for the berries.

The problem now is that we have a weeklong freeze predicted,"
said Ted Campbell, executive director for the Florida Strawberry
Growers Association. "It's an endurance test."

Parts of central Florida could see lows below freezing nearly
every day this week. Even Key West isn't immune. Temperatures there
the next couple of days are expected to barely creep above 60
degrees with a stiff north wind - nowhere near average highs in the
70s that draw winter tourists.

The duration of the cold snap is unusual, especially in the
South, where the weather is typically chilly for just a day or two
before temperatures rebound into the 50s.

Instead, places like Birmingham, Ala., and Charlotte, N.C., will
see temperatures above freezing for just a couple of hours a day
all week long. Many Southern homes aren't built to handle that type
of cold, with uninsulated pipes and heat pumps that will have to
run all the time just to keep things barely comfortable.

The phones were already ringing off the hook Monday at an agency
in Greenville, S.C., that uses federal grants to help people with
their heating bills.

"I'm very worried, especially for those who are not accustomed
to seeking assistance," said program coordinator Betty Cox.

Firefighters are also bracing for more calls this week. Five
people died in a fire Friday in rural Plymouth, Mo., likely caused
by an unattended fireplace, while three people were killed Saturday
in Honea Path, S.C., when either a space heater or a stove started
a fire in a mobile home.

"This could be a busy week - actually a couple of busy weeks,"
said David Berry, a volunteer fire chief in Alabama. "It's cold
and folks are trying to do whatever it takes to stay warm."


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