BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — This winter's coldest weather yet plunged Alabama into a deep freeze and broke records early Thursday, with temperatures dropping into the single digits before dawn across the northern third of the state.
Among the coldest spots was northwest Alabama, where temperatures dropped to 3 degrees in Haleyville, Double Springs and Winfield.
But at least three cities set records with despite having slightly warmer temperatures.
The low of 17 degrees at Mobile Regional Airport broke a record set in 1886 by 1 degree, forecasters said, and Tuscaloosa dipped to 11 degrees to break a record set in 1970. Montgomery's low of 14 degrees was a degree colder than the previous mark set in 1970.
In Montgomery, six people spent a frigid Wednesday night at Friendship Mission homeless shelter.
"You have some people who are hard core and will build a barrel fire and stay up all night, but most people know where to go," manager Ron Smith said.
Single-digit readings were common from Birmingham north, and cold temperatures combined with wind made it feel around zero and even colder in places.
The National Weather Service said temperatures in much of north Alabama won't rise above freezing until Friday, and some school systems said they would delay opening for a second straight day because of the cold.
Utilities from the Tennessee Valley to southeast Alabama asked residents to cut back on non-essential use of electricity because heaters were working extra hard, and more than 40 school systems opened later than normal because of frigid temperatures. Buses needed time to warm up, and school leaders didn't want children waiting outside in the bone-chilling weather.
Decatur police said the city's electrical system had a major failure around lunchtime, but it wasn't clear whether the problem was linked to the weather.
Waitress Teresa Beard had to be at work at a Waffle House in Tuscaloosa at 7 a.m., around the time the temperature was the coldest, but she said everything was normal other than all the heavy coats people were wearing.
"We're a little slow because the schools are closed and all," she said.
On social media, users posted photos of frozen fountains, backyard waterfalls and a bicycle coated in ice. At Alabama's lone ski slope, Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort in Mentone, workers were making snow in hope of opening for business by the weekend.
Cities large and small opened warming stations to help people get out of the cold. Meanwhile, officials in Orange Beach warned property owners about the threat of freezing pipes in sprinkler systems.