Midwest awaits spring-like thaw just days after bitter cold

CHICAGO (AP) – The bitter cold that gripped the Midwest forced commuters to bundle up like polar explorers. By early next week, many of those same people might get by with a light jacket.

Just days after the arctic conditions, forecasts say, the region will seemingly swing into another season, with temperatures climbing by as much as 80 degrees. Experts say the rapid thaw is unprecedented, and it could create problems of its own — bursting pipes, flooding rivers and crumbling roads.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a case where we’ve seen (such a big) shift in temperatures” in the winter, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground firm. “Past record-cold waves have not dissipated this quickly. … Here we are going right into spring-like temperatures.”

Although many places remained painfully cold on Thursday, the deep freeze eased somewhat, and the system marched east. Frigid weather descended on an area spanning from Buffalo to Brooklyn.

In western New York, a storm that dumped up to 20 inches of snow gave way to subzero temperatures and face-stinging wind chills. In New York City, about 200 firefighters battling a blaze in a commercial building took turns getting warm on buses. The number of deaths that could be blamed on the cold climbed to at least 15.

For the nation’s midsection, relief was as close as the weekend.