Polar vortex: Deep freeze spreads south and east, but warmup on the horizon

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 9:00am

Alright, East Coast and Deep South, it's your turn to be miserable.

The historic freeze that proved too cold for polar bears in the Midwest is spreading, dropping temperatures in the eastern third of the country about 20 degrees below normal for Tuesday, forecasters said.

Meanwhile, much of the Deep South is frozen solid, with hard freeze warnings in effect Tuesday from eastern Texas to the Florida panhandle.

How cold will it get? In New York, where it was about 50 degrees with wind chill Monday morning, could plunge as low as minus-7 dgrees on Tuesday -- a nearly 60-degree temperature drop in a single day.

Both Atlanta and Washington will shiver in 6-degree weather; Pittsburgh will shudder at 4 degrees.

All this thanks to a distorted polar vortex that likely came from Siberia.

Not just cold, but deadly

Authorities have blamed at least 15 deaths on the cold so far, including 11 from traffic accidents and two involving hypothermia.

Extreme wind chills mean flesh can freeze in as little as five minutes. Several major school districts are closed Tuesday, including those in Minneapolis and Atlanta, to prevent children from waiting outside at bus stops.

Chicago also opened up 12 centers for residents to seek warmth, one of which was to stay open through Tuesday. Libraries and some other city facilities would also be open, said Evelyn Diaz of the city's Department of Family and Support Services. Quinn said 100 warming centers were open statewide.

Travel nightmares

For the third consecutive day, more than 1,000 flights have been canceled within, into or out of the United States on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.com.

As of early Tuesday morning, more than 1,600 flights were canceled. And that number is expected to rise.

Among those stranded in the deep freeze was New York resident Mindy Goldberg, whose family's flight back from Mexico had been diverted to Boston because of bad weather.

"I just called my kids' school to tell them they wouldn't be there, and she said, 'Everyone's stuck somewhere,'" she told CNN affilliate WBZ.

In Indianapolis, Los Angeles resident and iReporter Jason Bentley took some time out to play in the snow outside the airport after learning his flight home had been canceled Sunday. It was 15 below zero.

"This is the wettest snow I've ever touched," Bentley said. "The easiest snow to make a snowman and to have snowball fights. It's also probably the worst (weather) I've ever been in because of the temperature."

When will this end?

Many residents, including those in Texas, can't wait for this cold snap to end.

"It's bitterly 10 degrees here in Weatherford, Texas, with a wind chill of below zero," Elizabeth Brew said. "Very hard to watch my kids go to school in such weather, but it is what it is."

By Wednesday, temperatures will start edging closer to normal, and by Thursday temperatures in most of the country will be back to normal -- or even a bit warmer, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

-- CNN's Indra Petersons, Josh Levs, Stephanie Elam, Paul Vercammen, Kevin Conlon and Dave Hennen contributed to this report.

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