The "polar vortex" that brought freezing temperatures to all 50 U.S. states began to subside slowly on Wednesday, leaving behind at least 21 dead and economic losses estimated at more than $5 billion.
All told, some 187 million people were affected by winter storm Hercules, which forced the cancellation of thousands of commercial flights.
The wind-chill factor plunged to -40 C (-40 F) in Minnesota and Wisconsin on Tuesday and forced schools to close and interrupted the work of government agencies and private companies in 14 states across the U.S. Midwest and Northeast.
The temperature in New York City's Central Park dipped to 5 F (-15 C) on Tuesday morning, the coldest for a Jan. 7 in 118 years.
The National Weather Service continued to report freezing temperatures in nearly a third of the country on Wednesday, but warmer weather is in the forecast over the next two days.
Authorities in different states have attributed at least 21 deaths to last Sunday's snow storm and the cold wave that followed.
Several of the victims were homeless people or individuals who did not arrive in time at one of hundreds of public shelters set up by cities and churches from Maine to Florida and from West Virginia to North Dakota.
"We think that the problem will be short-lived, but we estimate it will cost about $5 billion because of the sheer size of the population affected - about 200 million people in the eastern two-thirds of the country," Evan Gold, vice president at business weather intelligence company Planalytics, said.
He told NBC television that the impact would be apparent in a loss of productivity, reduced consumer spending and higher heating bills. EFE
(c) 2014 EFE News Services (U.S.) Inc.
Original headline: U.S. cold wave leaves 21 dead, costs economy an estimated $5 bn
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