Temperatures as low as -15C (12F) are set to bring arctic conditions to large parts of the US in the run-up to Christmas, forecasters have warned.
The polar blast heading for the already-frigid southern US is likely to endanger the lives of the vulnerable and spoil holiday travel plans for many, experts have said.
Meteorologist Zack Taylor of the National Weather Service, said: “We’re looking at much-below normal temperatures, potentially record-low temperatures leading up to the Christmas holiday.”
In a special weather statement issued on Sunday, the service warned of “extreme and prolonged freezing conditions for southern Mississippi and southeast Louisiana”.
The cold snap comes on top of a big freeze which dumped up to 61cm (2ft) of snow onto the northeastern US, leaving more than 80,000 people in New England without power on Sunday morning, poweroutage.us, which tracks outages across the country said.
Temperatures are set to drop as low as -15C (5F) in Nashville, Tennessee by Thursday night, when the mercury could hit -11C (12F) in Jackson, Mississippi, the National Weather Service (NWS) predicted.
The Weather Prediction Centre has warned the next seven days could see “the coldest air of the season” as the strong artic front hits the eastern two thirds of the country in the days before Christmas.
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Its forecasters predicted a “massive expanse of frigid temperatures from the Northern Rockies and Northern Plains to the Midwest through the middle of the week, and then reaching the Gulf Coast and much of the eastern US by Friday and into the weekend”.
In the north east, utility companies brought in extra workers from other states but were hampered by slick roads and dangerous conditions.
NWS meteorologist Frank Pereira, said: “This was a heavy, wet snow so that had impacts on both travel and the infrastructure.”
Police across New England had responded to more than 180 crashes since Friday evening.
In Vermont, state officials said power may not be restored to some customers for two to three days.
Montana is among the states already shivering – in temperatures as low as -16C (4F) on Sunday night.