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Arctic air has plunged Arkansas and much of the nation into a prolonged deep freeze, but temperatures will rise to 40 degrees in much of the state by Friday or Saturday.

The cold has been blamed in at least 12 deaths in the past week, but none in Arkansas.

Bitterly cold weather gripped much of the nation Tuesday.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories and freeze warnings for a vast area, from south Texas to Canada and from Montana through Maine. The Arctic blast was blamed for freezing a water tower in Iowa, halting a ferry service in New York and even trapping a swan in a Virginia pond.

Record lows were set in North Little Rock and Batesville on Monday and in Jacksonville on Thursday, said Chris Buonanno, science and operations officer with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.

Buonanno said a wave of Arctic cold fronts began battering Arkansas on Dec. 22.

"We had several Arctic fronts come quickly through the last 10 days or so," he said Tuesday. "It's been a while since we've seen this in these parts."

The temperature bottomed out at 6 degrees in Batesville on New Year's Day. That's 12 degrees below the previous record low for that day, set in 2001, said Buonanno.

North Little Rock had a low of 9 degrees Monday, 1 degree colder than the previous record set in 1977, he said.

In Jacksonville, the low was 15 degrees Thursday, breaking the previous low temperature of 19 degrees set in 2010.

It didn't warm up much during the day Monday.

Several Arkansas cities had record low maximum temperatures that day, Buonanno said. Those new records included a high of 20 degrees in Batesville; 23 degrees in North Little Rock; 24 degrees in Jacksonville; 26 degrees in Hot Springs; and 21 degrees in Pine Bluff and Stuttgart.

Jonesboro broke a 90-year record for lowest maximum temperature on New Year's Day. The high was 20 degrees Monday in Jonesboro, 2 degrees below the previous record set in 1928, said Zach Maye, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis, which monitors the temperatures in Jonesboro and much of eastern Arkansas.

Michael Borengasser, Arkansas' state climatologist, said Arctic cold fronts aren't unusual in Arkansas, but this one is particularly tenacious.

"Even in a warm year, we get these blasts that come down once or twice in a winter," he said.

Borengasser said it might seem cold at the moment, but 2017 was the seventh-warmest year on record in Arkansas.

"We need a cold spell," he said. "Otherwise, the ticks and bugs are going to be bad in the summer."

Ryan McGeeney, a spokesman for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the cold weather may kill off some of the red-banded stink bugs that migrated northward from Louisiana into central Arkansas last year, threatening the state's soybean crops.

"Our entomologists are pretty happy about this weather," said McGeeney."We were hoping and praying that we have a good cold winter."

Kelly Loftin, an entomologist with the division's cooperative extension service, said the cold snap may also kill some fire ants, which came from South America, but probably not Arkansas ticks.

"As far as the ticks, they're well adapted to Arkansas winters," he said. "They're not an import."

Gary McManus, the Oklahoma state climatologist, blamed a buckle in the jet stream for the cold front.

"This happens from time to time," he said. "It's a little bit unusual in the length that it has persisted. We've seen this occasionally over the last few years as we get these buckles in the jet stream that cause cold air to filter down over two-thirds of the U.S. For some reason, that jet stream buckle has gotten stuck."

Warming shelters were opened across the Deep South, where people are less accustomed to freezing weather, as hard freeze warnings were in effect for much of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Below-freezing temperatures have been common this week across the South, even reaching New Orleans where it was 26 degrees before dawn Tuesday.

In Mississippi, a low of 15 degrees early Tuesday tied the record for the date, which was set in 1979.

In Alabama, the low temperature over Monday night was 8 degrees near Cullman.

Georgia saw one of its lowest temperatures of the winter: 2 degrees shortly before dawn Tuesday at a U.S. Forest Service weather station at Toccoa.

Along the Georgia coast, the National Weather Service on Tuesday issued a winter storm watch as a low-pressure system in the Atlantic Ocean could produce ice and freezing rain for the area late Tuesday night and today.

The cold has been blamed for the deaths of at least a dozen people across the United States.

As of midday Tuesday, there had been no fatalities reported in Arkansas because of the cold weather, said Dan Noble, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Cpl. Anthony Rice with the Fort Smith Police Department said Josh Underwood, 48, was found dead outside a hair salon Sunday morning, but the cause of death is unknown at this point. He said Underwood's body had been sent to the state medical examiner's office for autopsy.

Rice said Underwood had been seen about five hours earlier, at 5:30 a.m., at a convenience store, and his vehicle was parked several miles away.

Marisha DiCarlo, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Health, said people don't usually like cold winter weather, but viruses apparently do. She said people should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on winter preparation at cdc.gov/features/winterweather/index.html.

Sylvan Hills High School in the Pulaski County Special School District allowed students who had cars or parents who could pick them up to leave school Tuesday morning because of a lack of heat on part of the campus. Temperatures dipped to as low as 42 degrees in affected parts of the building.

Students who did not have ready transportation stayed at school for classes in rooms that did have heat.

Deborah Roush, a spokesman for the district, said a leaking pipe caused water to drain from a boiler, shutting down the heat. The pipe was repaired by noon, she said. Students who left the campus will not be counted absent, nor will they have to make up the day, Roush said, because classes were held for some students.

According to the National Weather Service, the high today is projected to be 32 degrees in Fayetteville, 33 degrees in Jonesboro, 38 degrees in Little Rock and 41 degrees in El Dorado.

After a slight dip in high temperatures Thursday, the mercury is forecast to climb Friday and Saturday into the 40s.

No precipitation is in the forecast through Saturday.

Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press; and by Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 01/03/2018

Print Headline: Arctic cold sets records in state; thaw in forecast

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