INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana residents endured a second day in the deep freeze Tuesday, facing temperatures that dipped to minus 10 degrees or colder over the state's northern half even as travel conditions were improving and much warmer air was on the horizon.
While the bitter cold continued to make travel difficult, particularly in rural areas, many people driven from their homes by power outages caused by Sunday's snowstorm were returning to residences that had electricity, and heat, once again.
Among them was 41-year-old Timolyn Johnson-Fitzgerald, who had spent Sunday night in an American Red Cross shelter in Indianapolis with her three children, ages 11, 15, and 18, after the storm cut power to the apartment complex where they live.
They were ready for another difficult night trying to sleep at the shelter but instead were able to return home shortly after midnight Tuesday when power was restored to their apartment.
Johnson-Fitzgerald said her apartment's water lines were working despite the extreme cold, but much of the food she'd bought in preparation for the storm was ruined from a combination of thawing and then freezing during the outage.
"All my eggs were cracked, the cheese and milk was frozen. And the ice cream had melted and then refroze. It's crazy, but we're just glad to be back home," she said Tuesday afternoon.
Many counties in Indiana's northern two-thirds remained under travel warnings Tuesday afternoon, limiting travel to emergency purposes only, although several had lowered their travel alert levels. Many schools were closed for a second straight day due to wind chills that reached about 35 below zero. That included the state's two largest districts -- Indianapolis Public Schools and Fort Wayne Community Schools -- which were among the districts that will remain closed Wednesday for a third straight day.
But moderating temperatures and improving travel conditions allowed state workers to return to work Tuesday following Monday's state office closures, and Indiana lawmakers to begin the General Assembly's 2014 session Tuesday afternoon after a one-day delay.
Gov. Mike Pence on Monday had urged Hoosiers to stay off the roads, warning that they faced "real peril" if they became stranded following Sunday's snowstorm that buried northern and central Indiana under a foot or more of snow. Authorities said snow and bitter cold were possible factors in the deaths of at least six central Indiana residents, including two elderly women who fell outside Monday while tending to their dogs.
Temperatures reached 14 degrees below zero Tuesday in Indianapolis, while Fort Wayne fell to minus 15, tying the record for the date originally set in 1970. South Bend fell to 13 below, and Evansville reached 4 below zero.
But unlike Monday's subzero highs, Tuesday's highs rose to about zero in far northern Indiana to the upper teens in the state's southwestern corner. And even warmer air is forecast for Wednesday, when temperatures were expected to rebound into the 20s statewide.
National Weather Service meteorologist John Nield said temperatures will warm into the upper 30s to the lower 40s from Friday to Monday, bringing weekend rain that is raising concerns about possible flooding. However, heavy rains like those that sparked December flooding over central and southern Indiana after another heavy snowfall are not in the state's forecast, at least for the next several days, he said.
"The moisture that's stored in the snowpack is certainly fairly ample, so the risk of flooding is something we're monitoring," Nield said. "But there's nothing that's an imminent threat."
He said the best scenario would be for temperatures to rise well above freezing for several rain-free days so the snow melts slowly without inundating rivers and streams.
Indiana's major electric utilities reported progress repairing power lines damaged by Sunday's heavy snowfall and snapped tree limbs. At least 10,000 homes and businesses remained in the dark Tuesday afternoon, down from about 40,000 power outages a day earlier.
Indianapolis was hardest-hit by the outages, with about 9,800 outages remaining Tuesday afternoon.
More than 200 people spent Monday night at the American Red Cross' 16 shelters around Indiana, with about 100 of those at the Red Cross' Indianapolis shelter, officials said.