(Reuters) - Record-breaking cold gripped the Eastern United States on Monday as an icy winter storm crippled the nation's central states before it was expected to barrel toward the mid-Atlantic in time to snarl Tuesday's morning commute.
Heavy snowfall and ice moving from the Southern Plains eastward pounded Missouri, Arkansas, southern Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, the National Weather Service said.
Freezing rain encased Nashville in ice, cancelling flights and closing Interstate 24, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Cars skidded off roads near Louisville, Kentucky, where there were six times the usual number of accidents and a fleet of more than 1,000 snow plows tried to clear slick roads, officials said.
"It's been all hands on deck," said Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
The storm, which dumped 10 inches (25 cm) of snow on Cincinnati, causing roadway accidents and closing universities, was headed for the nation's capital later on Monday, with up to 12 inches of snow expected, said NWS meteorologist Brian Hurley.
"Washington and Baltimore - that's where the bulls eye's going to be," Hurley said.
About 50 million Americans were under wind chill advisories as the mercury plunged to new depths, breaking records in New York, where it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 Celsius) compared with the previous record for Feb. 16 of 9 F in 2003, and Washington, D.C., where it was 6 F compared with 11 F recorded in 1987, said Hurley.
The coldest spots in the nation were Watertown, New York, where it was minus 34 F but winds were calm and New Hampshire's Mount Washington, where it was minus 35 F but the winds made it feel chillier, Hurley said.
"We figure it's probably 85 below with the wind chill - and that's being conservative," Hurley said.
Boston scrambled on Monday to clear more than a foot (30 cm)of snow that fell over the weekend, making February the city's snowiest month ever, before the approaching storm comes its way. By Thursday morning, the Boston area could see another 8 inches of snow, Hurley said.
"The heaviest stuff will be close to the coast in eastern Massachusetts," Hurley said.
The new storm will be followed by another Arctic front, bringing frigid cold to the Eastern United States by Thursday or Friday, Hurley said.
(Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Timothy Ghianni in Nashville, Steve Bittenbender in Louisville and Kim Painter in Cleveland; Editing by Marguerita Choy)