Eyelashes froze together. A cup of boiling water tossed in the air turned into a puff of snow before hitting the ground. Polar bears’ feet froze and left bloody paw prints at the zoo.
And a banana froze hard enough to pound nails as the temperature plunged to 60 below zero in the little town of Tower.
The deadly Arctic cold front that has held the Plains, the Midwest and much of the South in its grip for at least a week showed no sign of letting up Friday, breaking temperature records that had stood for a century.
Throughout much of the nation, pipes froze, overworked heating systems broke down, car batteries quit and schools were closed. Tens of thousands of customers throughout the South lost electricity when ice-laden branches pulled down power lines.
“My eyelashes on my left eye were frozen together from my breath rising by the time I got on the bus,” said Minneapolis travel agent Janelle Nunez, who has been fielding calls about tropical vacations.
In the South, freezing rain and sleet coated roads with ice, and heavy snow fell in a band from Oklahoma to West Virginia. “My advice for people is to get what they need for a gumbo and stay home today,” said Capt. Ronnie Jones of the Louisiana State Police.
At least 17 deaths have been blamed on the severe weather this week, including an 80-year-old unidentified woman who was found dead on Friday in her unheated garage in Eau Claire, Wis.
In Louisiana, zookeepers used cigarette lighters to thaw out padlocks so they could move animals to warmer quarters in the Alexandria Zoo.
At St. Paul’s Como Zoo, the polar bears’ feet froze to the snowy ground when they came out of the pool, leaving bloody paw prints.
In Tower, population 502, WCCO radio meteorologist Mike Lynch blew soap bubbles for a crowd as the nearly century-old record of minus 59 degrees fell. “They freeze and don’t pop,” he said “It’s kind of neat.”
Someone also demonstrated how to pound nails with a banana.