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Arctic Cold Shatters Records in the Deep South

February 6, 1996

Arctic cold spread misery in the East and the Deep South on Monday, shattering low-temperature records that had stood for more than a century, imperiling Florida oranges, bursting pipes in New Orleans and freezing fishing boats to their moorings in North Carolina.

Temperatures dropped into the single digits as far south as Huntsville, Ala., at 4 degrees, Chattanooga, Tenn., at 2, and Meridian, Miss., at 8.

Thousands of people still had no electricity to help keep them warm after weekend ice storms snapped power lines. Seven people died at Newton, Miss., in a house fire believed caused by a kerosene heater that was fired up because the electricity failed.

That made a total of 89 deaths blamed on the weather across the nation since the cold wave burst onto the northern Plains last week and dropped temperatures as low as 60 below zero in Tower, Minn.

The Plains and upper Midwest began to warm slightly, but the morning lows in the South rewrote cold-weather records that had been on the books since 1886, including 20 at New Orleans and minus 10 at Lynchburg, Va.

Atlanta posted a non-record low of just 6 degrees. Savannah, on the Georgia shore, shivered at 19. Baton Rouge, La., hit a record 15 degrees; Hollywood, Fla., reached 34, also a record for the date.

Cape Hatteras was North Carolina’s warmest spot overnight _ and it had a low of 14. One fisherman at Wanchese, N.C., was seen using a crowbar to chip his boat free of the ice that formed along Croatan Sound.

``Ice storms are disastrous for some folks in the north, but here we’ve never learned culturally how to deal with them because it’s only been in our experience about every 10 years,″ said Orville Cunningham, sociology professor at Mississippi’s Jackson State University.

Pipes burst in New Orleans, where houses are mounted on piers to protect them against flooding, a design that exposes the plumbing to the cold. Southerners let water trickle from the tap to keep the pipes from freezing.

Debbie Janssen said she remembered to open all her spigots except for those in a bathroom _ where the pipes burst. The real problem was trying to get a plumber. ``They said they had 25 to 30 calls prior to mine and that was at a quarter till eight this morning,″ she said.

Temperatures fell as low as 23 degrees in Florida’s citrus groves. Farmers rushed to spray a protective layer of water and ice, and picked juice oranges imperiled by ice crystals. Even freeze-damaged oranges can be used for juice if they get to the processing plant before they spoil.

Citrus growers said it will be several days before they know how much damage occurred. But they believe temperatures did not stay low enough long enough to cause serious losses to an industry that brings growers an estimated $821 million and contributes $8 billion to the state economy.

Florida blueberry patches were just flowering when the ice arrived, destroying the blossoms. ``They will probably have a very, very small crop or none at all,″ said Betty Jones, county extension director for Alachua County.

People who went south expecting a break from the cold were really surprised.

``It’s too cold,″ English tourist Barry Alston said after dipping his toe in the water at Miami Beach, which had a record low of 37. Alston, braving the chill in shorts and a T-shirt, and his wife, Pat, were the only people in sight on the sand.

In the North _ where the temperature fell to a record 7 degrees in New York City _ the icy temperatures taxed the endurance of office workers who aren’t allowed to smoke inside.

``I don’t plan on smoking the whole thing. I’m just going to be out here for a second,″ Charles Coleman said between puffs outside a building in Trenton, N.J.

``My cigarette won’t even light,″ said Sheryl Worth.

Power lines broken by the weekend ice storms still kept more than 175,000 customers from switching on electricity Monday in North Carolina, and about 20,000 had no power in Virginia. Nearly 9,000 were in the dark in South Carolina, and about 4,000 customers lost power in West Virginia because demand was too high.

Among the victims of the weather, two boys, 8 and 11, died at hospitals in Tulsa, Okla. Gerar McClure and Brendon James had been pulled from the Arkansas River after falling through thin ice on Sunday.

Cold, ice and snow delayed funerals in Chattanooga. Families couldn’t reach the Lane Funeral Home, graves could not be dug, suppliers were unable to deliver vaults and it was too cold for graveside services

``We have worked with the families and they have worked with us,″ said the funeral home’s David Cummings. Everyone ``has been real understanding.″

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