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Eastern US shivers as brutal winter weather freezes Great Lakes (+video)

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John Minchillo/AP

(Read caption) A pedestrian walks through the exhaust of a steam vent Friday in New York. Arctic air and bitterly cold wind is moving across the Northeast, plunging temperatures into record low single digits, accompanied by subzero wind chills.

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The Eastern half of the nation continues to labor under a brutal and record-breaking cold dome that has come close to freezing Niagara Falls and has exasperated ice-breaker captains as the Great Lakes threaten to freeze over for the second year in a row.

The deep freeze has exposed many Americans, especially those who labor out-of-doors, to greater-than-usual threats. Dozens of people have died in winter weather related incidents, including fatal hypothermia. And snowfall and low temperature records are falling nearly every day. In western Pennsylvania, several locales, including New Castle, Butler, and Pittsburgh all saw record lows Friday night.

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Further record lows marked from Paducah, Kentucky, to Washington, D.C., were all the product of repetitive global patterns that kept slinging air from the North Pole into the eastern half of the US mainland. Massive ice caves appeared for the second year in a row near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, on Lake Michigan outside Traverse City, created by driven ice. Major league sluggers have fled the cold for Florida, but the Grapefruit Leaguers still had to endure highs of 40 degrees in Orlando.

On Lake St. Clair, the lake freighter Peter Creswell was blocked in by ice near Harsens Island. “She’s hardly moved at all in two days,” Frank Frisk, of Boatnerd.com, told the Port Huron Times Herald. “This is the heaviest ice [captains have] seen in years.”

The National Weather Service is forecasting snow through the Rockies and into the Midwest, including the southern Great Lakes as well as across the Appalachians and into the Northeast. Cleveland’s going to get battered, as are St. Louis and Baltimore. On Sunday, snow will continue to fall across the Front Range of the Rockies, and Boston, which has seen record snowfalls in February, will also of course get more white stuff.

The US capital on Friday broke a cold record that had stood for over 100 years.

“With some melting on Sunday, there is the threat for a refreeze into your Monday morning so plan on watching out for slick spots and icy sidewalks,” a producer for My Fox D.C. writes. “The good news? As far as winter weather goes, the upcoming week looks like a much quieter week for the region. However, models do suggest we need to keep our guard up as we get into next weekend.”

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab said Friday that 85.4 percent of America’s inland seas are frozen, compared to a record 94.4 percent that happened in 1979. Lake Huron is 92 percent frozen, compared to the record 98.3 percent frozen in 1994. Given the lingering cold and the pace of freezing, those records could be broken this winter.

Most dramatically, Niagara Falls, at least on the US side, has almost frozen, as spray ice encases trees, boulders and other surfaces around the falls. The frozen falls epitomized the relentlessness of the cold, which has been the main problem.

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“If you look at the growth of the ice especially in the last three or four weeks, it's extraordinary and way, way above what it typically is,” Jeff Andresen, a Michigan State University professor, told the Detroit News on Friday. “Usually by this point in the winter season, the region has had "a period of thaws or at least some let up … but that has not been the case this year."

Higher snow amounts over the next two days “will probably be across southern Indiana and Illinois and eastward through Ohio into western Pennsylvania," Bruce Sullivan, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told NBC News. "That's where it looks like the jackpot will be."

Some have dubbed the jabs of Arctic cold “The Siberian Express,” which had the ring of truth late week as Cleveland posted colder temperatures than the fabled frozen steppes of Russia.

A break was spotted in Georgia (the US state), as National Weather Service meteorologists in Peachtree City on Saturday announced the appearance of a “decent warm nose” pushing into the area. Not that warm, though. “Expect mixed p-types generally in the form of sleet and freezing rain,” the NWS then buzz-killed.