The East and Midwest received a welcome gift early Monday as a stubborn cold spell loosened its grip, but temperatures plunged in the South and provided a white Christmas for parts of Georgia and Florida. Forecasters said Monday may have been the coldest Christmas ever in Florida as freezing temperatures destroyed 40 percent of citrus and vegetable crops and power outages delayed holiday dinners and other activities. Utilities asked customers to forego lighting trees and using electricity until warmer temperatures arrived Monday afternoon.

Wilmington, N.C., reported one of the few record-low temperatures early Monday as the mercury dipped to 1 degree, setting a new mark not only for the date but for the coldest reading in Wilmington since the National Weather Service began keeping records in 1871.

In New England, a massive arctic high-pressure system responsible for record-low temperatures slowly weakened early Monday as the bitter cold eased a little across the region.

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