Northeast Cold Sends Power Usage Soaring

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Record cold pushed power usage toward all-time highs around the Northeast on Friday, and utilities asked customers to conserve power as a precaution against blackouts.

Boston's Logan Airport (search) hit minus 7, the coldest mark there since 1980, and water from firefighters' hoses turned to ice before temperatures began creeping up.

"This is inhuman punishment, man," said John King, stamping his feet as he stood in line for a security check outside a courthouse in White Plains, N.Y.

Temperatures warmed later in the day, as two Canadian weather systems that were funneling arctic air over New England moved eastward and began sending the bitter cold out to sea.

"We're going to leave the bitter arctic cold behind and go with just normal winter cold," said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (search) in Taunton.

No major blackouts had been reported by Friday afternoon.

Electricity suppliers sought voluntary cutbacks to make sure that they had enough natural gas to run their generators and that their equipment didn't go down from overuse. New Jersey Natural Gas Co. said natural gas use was 50 percent higher than normal on Thursday, and Con Edison on Thursday beat the record set just a day earlier in the New York area.

"People stay home more, turning on lights, watching television, listening to the radio or sitting at their computer," said Chris Olter, a spokesman for Con Ed. "In addition, you need electricity to power the pump that moves hot water, or the fan that blows hot air."

The chill hampered firefighters battling a fire at the historic Old Masonic Hall in Bangor, Maine. Water from hoses froze instantly in temperatures of minus 14, encasing the building in ice up to 10 inches thick and leaving it in danger of collapse from the weight.

Police in Quincy, Mass., about 10 miles south of Boston, used the cold to their advantage, turning off the heat to flush out a suspect hiding in an attic crawl space Friday morning.

The weather was blamed for five deaths in the Northeast, including a woman who died in a midnight fire caused by her makeshift efforts to heat her New York City apartment with candles and a space heater. In Springfield, the body of a homeless man who had refused to go to a shelter was found wrapped in two blankets.

A low of 1 degree was reported overnight in New York's Central Park (search), matching the record for Jan. 16 set in 1893, according to Mike Silva, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Massachusetts cities also hit record lows, with the mercury falling to 12 below zero in Worcester, and nearly 350 school districts and private schools across the state were closed Friday because of concerns about students walking to school or waiting at bus stops.