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Frigid weather across U.S. renders numbers meaningless

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Temperatures dip to 48 below zero in Babbitt, Minnesota
  • NEW: Typical weather patterns flip in Southeast and Alaska
  • Western Great Lakes area hit particularly hard by arctic blast
  • iReport.com: Cold near you? Share your photos, video, stories
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(CNN) -- Much of the country was in extremis Friday, with temperatures dropping to record lows in parts from Minnesota to Vermont.

A jogger is bundled up Friday as she makes her way through snow in Brookline, Massachusetts.

A bank's sign in Plainville, Massachusetts, displays the temperature there Friday.

For those braving the deep freeze, the numbers ceased to have meaning.

"After it's 10 below, what difference does it make?" asked Wendy Schlueter of Babbitt, Minnesota, where the temperature hit 48 degrees below zero Friday

Schlueter, 54, took extra precautions as she prepared to care for her horses before going to work.

She put on non-slip boots, two turtleneck sweaters and long underwear, topped off by a fur coat.

"It's my big boy," she said. "When I go out, I'm not cold."

She fed the horses double rations of hay during the cold weather, and they don't appear to be suffering, she said.

"They pretty much eat nonstop. They've got a lot of hair. Right now, they're standing out in the sun and enjoying that."

Schlueter heats her house -- which has triple-paned windows -- with a wood stove, though last month's electric bill was $167.

The cold front stretched all the way into Florida and was forecast to dump heavy snow on the Ohio Valley, the Mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast on Friday.

The cold set records in Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota, said Bruce Terry, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland. Video Watch the freeze in Iowa »

St. Cloud, Minnesota's mark of 34 below was the same bitter low that was reached in Waterloo, Iowa. Terry said it also breaks the city's January record low temperature, which was set January 20, 1994, by one degree.

The meteorologist said record lows can be traced to cold air that has drifted from western Canada and Alaska, where Fairbanks had lows of between 45 below and 35 below last week.

"An area of low pressure allowed all this cold air to pour over the eastern United States and essentially dislodged that cold air and dumped it down into the central and eastern United States," he said.

By Friday, usual patterns had flipped. Fairbanks residents were basking in temperatures in the mid-30s while parts of the Tennessee Valley were shivering in the single digits, he said. Atlanta, Georgia, residents were bracing for temperatures in the teens again Friday night.

From the Upper Mississippi Valley through the Ohio Valley and in to the Great Lakes, temperatures will be at or below zero Friday night, he predicted.

The temperature in Chicago, Illinois, on Friday morning was minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit. And that didn't account for wind chill, which describes the combined effect of wind and cold temperature on exposed skin. Video Watch how people are dealing with the cold »

Jennifer Flesher, a 20-year-old CNN iReporter and student at the University of Illinois, said Thursday that the temperature was "unbelievable."

"I went outside to use the snow blower, and my lungs actually started hurting," she said.

Even by Minnesota standards, the weather is particularly brutal.

"You have to cover all of your skin, because you can get frostbite almost immediately. I have to go out every couple of hours to make sure all the pumps are working in our barn," said iReporter Leah Thomason of the Duluth area.

Thomason owns horses, which keep warm by standing in the sun and trying to get out of the wind. They also eat constantly to keep generating heat, she said.

"I have never seen weather like this before: individual icicles on each hair of the horses," Thomason told CNN. iReport.com: What's the weather like near you? Send photos, video

The National Weather Service said the bitterly cold temperatures are likely to remain in the East through the weekend, before more seasonable temperatures return.

Snow also fell Thursday in Trenton, New Jersey; New Haven, Connecticut; and other Northeast cities.

That wasn't bad news for everyone.

"I was in Killington, Vermont, and it snowed Wednesday through Thursday," iReporter Noel Abejo said. "Fresh powder! It was cold and windy, but I was on a snowboard vacation. Temps were in the single digits, and the winds made it feel like it was below zero. But I had a great time."

The National Weather Service offers the following guidelines for keeping warm:

  • Dress in several layers of loose-fitting clothing to create pockets of insulating warm air.
  • Wear wool or fleece fabrics, not cotton, as it dries slowly; warm socks with a thermal sock liner; comfortable closed shoes; a scarf, hat and earmuffs to prevent loss of body heat; a water-repellent, hooded outer garment to add extra protection; and mittens instead of gloves to keep hands warm.
  • Walk around or move in place to increase circulation and generate additional body heat.
  • Drink warm beverages.
  • Do not drink alcohol, as it will cause a loss of body heat by dilating blood vessels.
  • Seek shelter indoors periodically to warm up.
  • Take extra precautions with the elderly and very young, as they are most at-risk.
  • The Weather Service also offers these cold weather dangers and warning signs:

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  • Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by exposure to extreme cold. Warning signs include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, earlobes or the tip of the nose.
  • Hypothermia is a potentially fatal condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees F. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.
  • All About Winter Weather

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