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Health warnings as half of US shivers in grip of dangerous cold

A prolonged spell of dangerously cold weather across half the US has led to homeless charities scrambling to get people off the streets and officials urging residents to assist elderly neighbours.

People from the Midwest to the Northeast are dealing with sub-freezing temperatures and wind chills, while those in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies are bracing for storms with heavy mountain snow and freezing rain.

The cold is expected to continue through the holiday weekend and longer, according to the National Weather Service, prolonging a stretch of brutal weather blamed for vehicle crashes, trips to casualty and at least one death.

Wind chill advisories remained in place for many areas. Animal owners were urged to bring their pets indoors if possible or make sure they are warm.

Forecasters warned people to be wary of hypothermia and frostbite from the arctic blast that has gripped a large area from the Midwest to the Northeast.

The temperature, without the wind chill factored in, dipped to minus 35C (minus 31F) on Thursday morning in Watertown, New York. Temperatures rose to minus 22C (minus 8F) early on Friday morning.

Heavy snow is expected on Friday in the Pacific Northwest, across the Cascade mountains and into the northern Rockies before gradually tapering off on Saturday.

As much as two to three feet of snow is possible in the highest terrain, while coastal regions were expected to see heavy rainfall.

About 30 crashes were reported on icy roads on Friday morning in Michigan, where below-freezing temperatures continue to envelop parts of the state.

A woman trying to manoeuvre her wheelchair on a cold, snowy night in Nebraska got an escort from a fire engine.

Snow and construction items on the pavement forced her into a busy Omaha street on Tuesday. Firefighters returning to their station noticed her and flipped on their lights to follow until she reached her destination.

She gave them a thumbs-up as they departed.

In South Dakota, an 83-year-old woman died from exposure to the cold.

Police believe she crashed her car on a gravel road near the tiny rural town of Revillo, then left the vehicle to look for help. They found her body in a ditch on Sunday.

Warming centres have been set up in some locations, including across Cincinnati. Boston's Pine Street Inn sent a van with workers to persuade people to spend the night inside, but some said they prefer the streets.

The Ohio Department of Aging said older people are at increased risk from such severe cold, from medication side effects to falling risks.

The department encouraged people to check family members, friends and neighbours to make sure they are warm enough and have medicine, food and water.

On Thursday, cold weather records were set from Arkansas to Maine, and the freezing air will linger through the weekend, reaching as far south as Texas and the Florida Panhandle.

In New Hampshire, the cold set a record for the day of minus 37C (minus 35F) atop the Northeast's highest peak, Mount Washington.

In the Midwest, temperatures in Minneapolis are not expected to top minus 18C (0F) this weekend, and it likely will be minus 11C to minus 7C (12F to 19F) when the ball drops on New Year's Eve in New York City.

A winter storm warning was in effect for much of Montana, calling for significant snowfall followed by dangerously cold temperatures as 2017 comes to an end.

"People like to think of themselves as being prepared for the weather and things like that," Billings forecaster Dan Borsum said, "but this one will get your attention."

AP

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