More than 50 dead, 100 million under winter weather alerts as Arctic cold blankets the nation

The weeklong Arctic cold that’s blanketed much of the nation has taken 59 lives, officials said, as more than 100 million people in the United States are under winter weather alerts Friday.

Wind chill alerts Friday afternoon stretched from Montana to Florida and freeze alerts remained in effect across the South and Gulf Coast.

Temperatures Friday night and early Saturday in traditional hot spots such as Shreveport, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Birmingham, Alabama; and Atlanta are set to dip into the low 20s or teens.

Wind chill alerts Friday afternoon stretched from Montana to Florida and freeze alerts remained in effect across the South and Gulf Coast.

Of the 59 cold-related deaths since last Friday, 19 happened in Tennessee, nine in Oregon, six in Illinois and Mississippi, five in Washington state and Kentucky, three in New York state, two in Louisiana and one each in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Wyoming and New Hampshire, local and state officials have told NBC News.

All state offices in Tennessee were closed Friday because of the dangerous winter weather, officials said.

The Nashville Department of Transportation and Multimodal Infrastructure bluntly told Music City residents to stay home, saying Friday’s icy road conditions are the worst yet of this weeklong cold snap.

“If you do drive, assume every road is icy, even when it appears clear,” the agency said.

Wayne County, Tennessee, Sheriff Shane Fisher injected some humor into his serious message for drivers to be careful navigating ice-slicked conditions. His office posted surveillance footage of the sheriff falling on ice after getting out of a truck.

“Don’t become a statistic!” according to the message. “Note — no animals were harmed in making this video.”

Cities like Knoxville, in eastern Tennessee, typically only get about four inches of snow for the entire season. In less than two days, 8 inches of snow have been dumped on the city.

“I know there are a lot of people that don’t own shovels in East Tennessee because you don’t expect to have to,” said Mark Nagi, a Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesperson.

On top of the snow, there is the deep freeze, which has exposed vulnerabilities and contributed to the large number of weather-related deaths in the state. Although interstates have been cleared, many neighborhoods maintained by cities or counties are still packed in with ice and snow.

The homeless population in Tennessee is especially struggling as temperatures are set to hit 9 degrees Friday night with windchills between 1 and 6 degrees, and the state’s warming centers are filled to capacity.

Michael Wrinkle, who has been operating a homeless ministry in Knoxville for nine years, described “seeing frozen tears to people’s faces.”

In western New York, residents have been buried under snow for several days.

Michael Santoro, who lives just south of Buffalo in Hamburg, said he’s been spending almost five hours a day in his driveway plowing and shoveling to keep up with the relentless snowfall this week.

“Anyone of these snow mounds could be a car,” he said, gesturing to a car in his driveway completely engulfed by snow. “You have to really be careful when you’re driving through here.”

Cities from West Virginia to southern New England could get between 1 to 5 inches of snow Friday.

  • Philadelphia was hit hard by snow Friday morning and by the time it lets up in the evening, up to 5 inches will have fallen on the City of Brotherly Love and the surrounding Delaware Valley.

  • Light snow began falling on New York City in the morning with 1 to 3 inches potentially covering the area by early evening.

  • Boston should experience light snow Friday afternoon and early evening, with as much as an inch falling.

  • There was heavy snowfall from Thursday into Friday afternoon north of Washington, D.C., with 6 inches hitting Clayton, Delaware, and 5.4 inches coming down on Columbia, Maryland. Baltimore had endured 4.1 inches of snowfall in this latest winter blast.

Swaths of Texas and Louisiana had been shivering since the last weekend, before they got a respite of warmth and then went back to freezing Friday.

Residents of Dallas and Amarillo in Texas, and Shreveport, Louisiana, enjoyed comfortable high temperatures of 60, 65 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, Thursday. Those same communities were back under blankets Friday as the mercury dipped to 24, 31 and 41 degrees, respectively.

Winter temperatures across the eastern United States will be low throughout the weekend, but there’s hope for warmer times by Monday.

For example, it won’t get above freezing in New York City all weekend. But it could reach 37 degrees by Monday and into the 50s a week from now.

Bostonians will have to bundle up for high temps only making the low 20s Saturday before it reaches conditions similar to New York City by next week.

Sunnier days are also headed to the Midwest where high temps in St. Louis and Chicago won’t get above 17 and 14 degrees Saturday. But the mercury should reach the high 30s and low 40s by the end of next week.

By Tuesday, highs across the eastern part of the country will be above average.

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