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Florida, manatees brace for frigid night

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:49 PM EST, Tue January 3, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Boaters asked be aware of manatees moving in, out
  • Two pileups in Kentucky involve dozens of cars, a CNN affiliate reports
  • Freeze warnings were in effect for much of Florida
  • "It was like something you would see in a movie," a Kentucky resident says

(CNN) -- Winter weather greeted southerners as they returned to work Tuesday following the New Year's holiday weekend, with freezing temperatures replacing the surprisingly warm weather of recent days.

Bone-chilling cold took over much of the Southeast. Snow was forecast for higher elevations of the North Carolina mountains and freeze warnings were in effect for much of Florida.

Jacksonville was expected to have overnight lows into Wednesday in the lower 20s, possibly breaking the record low of 22 in 1887. The Tampa Bay area was expected to see lows in the mid-20s inland and in the upper 20s and lower 30s along the Gulf Coast.

Temperatures, however, were expected to warm up by Wednesday night.

Most Florida wildlife is well-equipped to deal with freezing temperatures, but manatees can be a concern, said spokesman Gary Morse of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"Manatees tend to be fairly susceptible to these cold fronts," said Morse. They go to warmer waters and near power plant outflows.

"We are telling people (boaters) to be especially cautious," said Morse, because the mammals can be in a stressful condition.

"When they start to disperse when weather warms up, we ask them (boaters) to be careful for manatees," he said. Boaters should wear polarized sunglasses, watch for noses and flukes and a "slick on the water." The department will be increasing patrols to ensure vessels obey speed requirements in manatee protection zones.

Rangers have noted a concentration of manatees in the Orange River in Lee County.

A quick-moving snowstorm was blamed for two pileups involving dozens of cars in Kentucky, CNN affiliate WLWT reported. One involved 41 vehicles and left eight people injured, six of whom were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, the report said.

Winter leaves some ski slopes sparse

The second pileup involved three separate crashes and more than 30 vehicles, WLWT reported.

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Interstate 75 was closed for more than four hours, the affiliate said.

The storm came on with no warning -- quickly making the streets treacherous, CNN affiliate WCPO reported.

"It was like something you would see in a movie. It was just unbelievable," resident Bobby Webb told WCPO. "It was just a whiteout. People were just slamming into each other like dominoes."

On Sunday, parts of northern and western Michigan were hit with a blizzard, coating some areas with almost a foot of snow.

Heavy snow was expected to taper off Tuesday for much of Michigan.

CNN's Phil Gast contributed to this report.

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