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Many states are seeing frigid temperatures as extreme cold has gripped most of the nation

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Updated January 03, 2018 11:48 AM EST

2018 got off to a frigid start - and the worst is yet to come

Bone-chilling cold gripped much of the central U.S. as 2018 began, breaking century-old records, icing over some New Year's celebrations and leading to at least two deaths attributed to exposure to the elements.

Bitterly cold temperatures continued to grip much of the nation on Tuesday, testing the mettle of even winter-wise northerners and delivering a shock to those accustomed to far milder weather in the South.

The cold has been blamed for at least a dozen deaths, prompted officials to open warming centers in the Deep South and triggered pleas from government officials to check on neighbors, especially those who are elderly, sick or who live alone.

In St. Louis, where temperatures dipped 30 degrees below normal, Mayor Lyda Krewson warned it was "dangerously cold."

"It's important that people look out for anyone in need of shelter," she said.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories and freeze warnings covering a vast area, from South Texas to Canada and from Montana to 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.

A monster storm will hammer coastal locations from Georgia to Maine with ice and snow. By Thursday, the storm will be more like a winter hurricane, battering New England with potentially damaging winds in addition to blinding snow.

Forecasters are expecting the storm to become a so-called “bomb cyclone” because its pressure is predicted to fall so fast, an indicator of explosive strengthening.

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For a winter storm to become a bomb, short for bombogenesis, the central pressure needs to drop 24 millibars or more in 24 hours.

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