Big Chill: Bitter cold blast takes aim at South - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Big Chill: Bitter cold blast takes aim at South

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Homeless shelters braced for an influx of people seeking refuge from a bitter onslaught of Arctic air as Florida farmers plucked ripened berries early, snow covered roads in parts of North Carolina and plunging temperatures sent shivers across the South.

Farmers covered up strawberry plants in Louisiana and put cattle into barns in North Carolina. School bus drivers in Georgia switched on heaters, but Miami beachgoers still frolicked in bikinis and shorts as the South awaited the worst of a bitter cold front sweeping in from the North.

Louisville braced for some of the coldest temperatures here in four years, with Friday's lows expected near 3 degrees with wind chills of zero to 10-below, said meteorologist John Denman at the National Weather Service.

At an emergency men's shelter in Louisville run by St. Vincent de Paul, a 61-year-old homeless man who gave only his first name Chris worked on inflating some 20 air mattresses.

He said he knows what it's like to endure a frigid night on the streets: "It's very uncomfortable. You've got to keep moving. You're afraid to go to sleep."

Other shelters from West Virginia to South Carolina also readied for cold guests.

At the nearly full Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Shelter in Charleston, W.Va., shelter manager Alex Alston planned for extra mattresses and cots, adding, "In this weather you want people to come in the door."

David Sneade, director of another Charleston shelter for men, converted a dining room into a makeshift sleeping area.

"This cold will really bring them in," Sneade predicted.

Many Southerners, unaccustomed to such bitter cold, struggled to stay warm.

Atlanta bike messenger Michael Mann donned a ski mask and wool socks to make his deliveries Wednesday. He'll add another pair of socks and long underwear Thursday when the cold blast fully strikes the Deep South.

"I try to hang out in as many lobbies as are friendly to me," he added, his breath frosty.

School districts in the north Georgia mountains braced for possibly icy roads and some bus drivers readied heaters to keep students warm.

Ice and snow glazed many roads in western North Carolina as more than a dozen school systems closed or delayed openings Wednesday. Weather service meteorologist Blair Holloway said snow accumulations in western North Carolina ranged from a half inch to 1½ inches across the mountains, with more on the way.

Retiree Allen Wight, on a farm north of Asheville, kept close watch on 40 head of beef cattle.

"My concern is how cold it will get," Wight said, adding his livestock would huddle in old tobacco barns for warmth.

Pamela Garcia of the Salvation Army in Greenville, S.C., appealed for space heaters, especially for elderly folks without sufficient home insulation, a common problem in the South.

"It just breaks my heart when I think of those older folks who don't have warm homes," she said.

Frigid weather worried states rimming the Gulf coast as freeze watches or warnings went up.

Hard freeze watches and warnings have been posted for Thursday night in many parts of Mississippi. Highs Thursday are expected to be below freezing most of the day in northern Mississippi with lows early Friday from single digits in the north to the 20s in Biloxi along the Gulf Coast, said National Weather Service forecaster Chad Entremont in Jackson.

Biloxi police were alert for anyone on the streets needing help.

Vincent Creel, a spokesman for Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, reminded residents of the usually mild Gulf Coast to dress warmly. But he insisted the cold was more tolerable than subzero temperatures in the snowy North.

"The visitors we have, the so-called snowbirds, will find it more conducive to playing golf in this kind of weather than, say, playing golf in 6 feet of snow somewhere else," Creel said.

A hard freeze watch also was posted for much of Alabama, as forecasters warned temperatures could plunge into single digits in many areas. Huntsville in north Alabama was expecting the coldest air since 2003 when temperatures dropped to 5 degrees, said meteorologist Chelly Amin.

Florida farmworkers plucked ripened field berries early as a precaution. Strawberry growers near Tampa and blueberry growers around Gainesville checked irrigation pumps, ready to spray fruit with water to create a protective ice coating if needed.

"If that freeze protection is not there, you're going to lose plants," said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for Florida Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

The Florida panhandle was also expecting a hard freeze with potential record-breaking temperatures in the middle teens to lower 20s Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service. A freeze warning extended southward to just above Tampa.

And near Ponchatoula, La., white fabric covered William Fletcher's 92,000 strawberry plants.       Still, not everyone was fretting from the cold.

Temperatures on Miami's South Beach hovered just below 70 degrees Wednesday afternooon. Sunbathers in bikinis and shorts peppered the sand, though few dared to enter the waves.       Still, there were no complaints from tourists who fled colder climes.

"For us, it's almost perfect," said 56-year-old Les McClain, who lives near Cambridge, England.

But not all those already in areas gripped by the cold seemed to mind the Arctic blast.

Paul Wojtysiak, a doorman at a Baltimore hotel, stood cheerfully in top hat and white cotton gloves, braving gusting winds in 21-degree weather.

"I like it cold, makes you feel alive," the doorman said as wind buffeted skyscrapers nearby.               

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

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