Eastern US braces for polar vortex as bitter cold remains
Firefighters rescue three people after a car was stuck in icy water in Boyds, Maryland, U.S., in this January 1, 2018 image by Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service obtained from social media. Picture taken January 1, 2018. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service/Social Media/via REUTERS

A major winter storm will start hitting the U.S Southeast up through New England on Wednesday with freezing rain, snow and strong winds, adding to record-shattering cold that is keeping its grip on much of the eastern United States.

The winter mix along with low wind chills could cause widespread power outages and ice over roadways, making commuting treacherous for millions of Americans from northern Florida to southern Virginia, the National Weather Service said in a series of warnings.

"Travel will be dangerous and nearly impossible, including during the morning commute on Wednesday," the service said in an advisory for northeastern Florida.

Eastern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia will get as much as 6 inches (15 cm) of snow along with an accumulation of ice while parts of New England could see 12 to 15 inches (30-38 cm) of snow and wind gusts of 35 mph (55 kph) by the end of week, the service said.

Late on Tuesday, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 28 counties after the National Weather Service issued the winter storm warning.

Florida Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday urged residents in the northern part of his Sunshine State to prepare for the cold. His office said cold weather shelters have opened or are planning to open in 22 of the state’s 67 counties.

As the storm bears down, an arctic air mass will remain entrenched over the eastern two thirds of the country through the end of the week. The record-low temperatures is to blame for at least eight deaths in Texas, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Dakota and Michigan over the past several days.

A large swath of the Midwest was under a wind chill warning early on Wednesday as places like Cleveland and Indianapolis had temperatures in the wind of 5 to 20 degrees below zero in Fahrenheit ( minus 20 to minus 29 degrees Celsius) while the deep South faced deep freeze temperatures that threatened crops and pipes, the National Weather Service warned.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)