An unusual Southern cold snap continued its grip on the Gulf states on Wednesday as Florida farmers worked to salvage millions of dollars worth of crops and sun-seeking tourists were met with chilly temperatures expected to last through the weekend.

A hard freeze warning was issued along the Gulf Coast, including most of Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Forecasters say the dangerously cold air mass could force temperatures into the teens in parts of the region by Thursday.

In central and south Florida, farmers were trying to salvage citrus and vegetable crops by spraying them in protective layers of ice and covering them in plastic. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order Wednesday that gave the state's Division of Emergency Management and other agencies the authority to provide farmers with assistance.

Weather in the South this time of year is typically chilly for just a day or two before temperatures rebound into the 50s. Many homes weren't built to handle such cold, with uninsulated pipes and heat pumps that must continuously run to keep things barely comfortable.

Miami Meteorologist Dan Dixon said Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were expected to approach or set record-low overnight temperatures Wednesday morning. The game-time temperature for the Orange Bowl between Georgia Tech and Iowa was 49 degrees in Miami, which FOX-TV announcers said was a record for the annual college football game that started in 1935.

Vacationing college students from Ohio, Tara McCourry and Stephen McFarren, walked hand-in-hand along picturesque Pensacola Beach Tuesday, one of the few people braving the 27-degree wind chill. The couple watched pelicans, admired seashells and adjusted their hats and gloves as they buffered themselves against the wind.

"This is my first time in Florida and Florida is not supposed to be cold like this," McCourry said.

Charleston, S.C., was expecting subfreezing overnight lows all week. Parts of West Virginia could see 4 to 8 inches of snow by Wednesday morning. A dusting of snow fell in western and central Kentucky overnight, heralding 3 to 5 inches expected in those areas, with some locally heavier amounts.

The eastern U.S. also has been hit with subfreezing temperatures along with heavy snowfall. In northeast Ohio, between 5 and 6 inches of snow fell Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

In Vermont, the bad weather was blamed for several car accidents on slushy, slick roadways. In Hinesburg, a police officer was investigating a single-vehicle crash on Tuesday night when his cruiser was struck from behind by a teenager driving on roads that were covered in ice because of freezing rain. Minor injuries and vehicle damage were reported.