Much of U.S. in Grip of Deep Freeze

Too cold for you? Maybe it's time to move to Alaska.

America's northernmost state was sounding like a tropical retreat Thursday for the millions of people from Montana to Florida who are enduring record low temperatures, surprising snowstorms and dangerously frigid winds.

The high in Anchorage was expected to be 23 degrees Thursday. That's below freezing -- but much higher than the bone-chilling temperatures elsewhere.

In New York City, the thermometer was frozen at 12 degrees. Oklahoma City residents endured 10-degree temperatures at 10 a.m. At Auburn University in the Deep South state of Alabama, the temperature was only 25 degrees at 9:30 a.m.

That sounded like bathing-suit weather in Valentine, Neb., where the mercury plummeted to 23 degrees below zero.

Temperatures were forecast to remain below freezing in most of the continental U.S. Thursday, even into Florida. Wind chill warnings and advisories were issued for more than two-dozen states.

Even areas known for their beaches and sunny skies were bearing a brutal blast from Mother Nature.

A rare snowstorm hit North Carolina's Outer Banks on Thursday and was expected to drop as much as 10 inches -- the first significant snowfall for the coast in more than 10 years.

The Banks are usually immune to such chills because the area is insulated by relatively warm water, said Roy Pringle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morehead City. But this storm was expected to bring winds of up to 30 mph, resulting in near blizzard conditions at times at the coast, Pringle said. The area's last snowfall of any consequence came on Christmas 1989.

Florida, the Sunshine State, is typically a warm-weather retreat that many flock to in the winter, but a strong arctic cold mass was expected to send temperatures to below freezing in much of the state Thursday and Friday.

Gov. Jeb Bush signed an emergency order to eliminate the weight limit on trucks so growers can harvest what they can and get it to market before the cold damages the fruit.

"I would not be surprised, depending on what the winds do, to see single digits across north Georgia, to the teens in the south to the Florida border," National Weather Service meteorologist Von Woods said. The last time Atlanta recorded temperatures below 10 degrees was in February 1996, he said.

The rat race in Chicago moved a lot quicker Thursday morning as workers darted through the streets, chilled to two degrees below zero. Seventeen deaths have been blamed on the freezing temperatures thus far.

A persistent cold snap was keeping temperatures 10 to 20 degrees below normal in the Midwest and Northeast early Thursday, while snow and rain were pushing through the Northwest and Southeast.

High temperatures Thursday were forecast below zero and in the single digits throughout the Midwest; the teens in the Northeast and northern and central Plains; 20s in the southern Plains and interior South; 30s in northern Texas and the Rockies; 40s along much of the Gulf Coast; 50s in the Northwest and Great Basin; and 60s and 70s in Southern California, the Southwest and the Florida Peninsula.

Minneapolis and Fargo, N.D., weren't expected to reach zero degrees.

A low-pressure area off the Carolinas was expected to produce unsettled weather in much of the Southeast. Up to 2 inches of snow was forecast for the Carolinas and Appalachians, with 4 inches possible at high elevations.

Iowa is in the grips of the coldest weather of the season. Overnight temperatures dipped below zero across the entire state, with wind chill readings from 20-to-30 below. Highs Thursday will struggle to get into the single digits and teens.

The cold weather is causing power problems and state health officials are telling Iowans to be careful in this cold weather because there's a risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning. Doctors say the biggest problem is furnaces that haven't been properly checked or the flue isn't open.

Maine's prolonged cold spell showed no sign of letting up Thursday morning, but forecasters said there's a modest warm-up in sight.

Overnight lows were in the subzero range just about everywhere in Maine. It was 13 below in Greenville, minus five in Millinocket, minus five in Portland, Bangor and Frenchville, and minus four in Caribou and Presque Isle.

Some of the coldest weather of the season has settled over Wisconsin and the icy subzero temperatures have closed schools. In the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek, the frigid temperatures caused a power pole to snap, cutting power to about 850 customers.

Like many across the nation, families in North Carolina were trying to make the most of the uncharacteristic weather. Many scavenged for sleds but, finding few in stores, they had to improvise.

"In Wanchese, the kids slide on fish boxes that have wax on the bottom of them," said John LaCount, photo manager at the Kmart in Kill Devil Hills.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.