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Cold Blast: Records Tumble, No Relief Soon

IT'S been so cold that road signs are splitting in South Dakota. South Texas citrus farmers are kissing their grapefruit trees goodbye. And as the week's arctic blast moves east, New Yorkers are preparing snappy retorts to the question: Cold enough for you?

In a year of eight-foot snow banks in Massachusetts and barren ground in Alaska, Midwesterners from Minnesota to Missouri have been staying indoors, as thermometers hovered well below zero.

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Yesterday, the Minneapolis-St. Paul area was 20 below zero and Chicago was 10 below. Even southern Texas may feel the sting of 10-degree cold, with freezing rain, sleet, and snow forecast into the weekend. Meteorologists were projecting temperatures as low as 50 below zero in that Valhalla of chilliness, International Falls, Minn.

In Kaukauna, Wis., eight families were left homeless yesterday by a fire that started when an apartment manager tried to thaw a frozen pipe with a blowtorch. Firefighters' tools froze in the minus-20-degree cold, and bystanders helped fire crews remove gloves that had frozen to their hands.

Record lows for the date were tied or broken Wednesday in Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, where a home thermometer recorded a numbing reading of 52 below zero at Seeley.

Another blast of cold should bear down through the weekend across the northern and central Plains, the Midwest, and New England.

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