Deep Freeze Closes Schools, Grounds Flights
Hardy Midwesterners well accustomed to frigid weather found Monday’s blast of arctic cold to be far beyond anything in recent memory, breaking records and testing their legendary ability to cope with winter’s extremes.
Brutal subzero temperatures forced school closings, kept people home from work, stymied air travel and posed real danger to anyone lingering outdoors as arctic air swept across the Midwest on its way toward the East Coast.
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Like a “how cold was it?” joke, the weather across much of the USA was so cold even western Michigan ski resorts shut down and some airlines, such as JetBlue Airways, simply stopped trying to operate most routes between Chicago, other Midwestern cities and the Northeast.
Tuesday promises to be even colder as the “polar vortex” of frigid arctic air advances, bringing what forecasters say will be record-breaking cold to the East and Northeast.
Below-zero temperatures, some into double digits, brought life to a virtual standstill across much of the upper and industrial Midwest. Chicago saw a record low minus 16, and Quincy, Ill., tied a record at minus 9. Wind chills across the Midwest were 40 below and colder.
The cold stretched into southern regions accustomed to a milder January. Waco, Texas, saw 16 degrees and Monroe, La., 19, both records.
Calculating for the wind effect, Comertown, Mont., saw minus 63 and Rolla, N.D., saw minus 60 wind chills.
“Anyone stuck outside for any length of time will be at serious risk for injury or death,” the National Weather Service in Minnesota’s Twin Cities warned.
Several deaths were blamed on the snow, ice and cold since Saturday, including the death of a 1-year-old boy who was in a car that went out of control and collided with a snowplow Monday in Missouri.
Air travel was all but impossible Monday. More than 5,000 scheduled commercial flights were canceled Monday, according to Flightstats.com, and more than 10,000 more were seriously delayed.
Many people, like David Mousseau, an operations manager for an energy company, abandoned efforts to get to work and decided to stay home, saying it was the coldest he has experienced in three decades as a Chicagoan.
“I went out and started the car but my feet were frozen within five minutes,” Mousseau said. “And I had on all the stuff I would for skiing. So I decided to pass.”
Chicagoans awoke to a fresh foot of snowfall and a record low temperature of minus 15 degrees. Winds made for a wind-chill effect temperature in the minus-40s.
Temperature in Chicago rose to just minus-10 in midafternoon. Much of the city was shut down, including the SkyDeck Chicago at the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower.
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“This is some of the most extreme weather we have seen in the city of Chicago in decades,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
His office and other city agencies urged people to stay inside. The city extended hours on its warming centers where people can shelter from the cold.
Elsewhere across the upper Midwest, the story was similar. Sioux Falls, S.D., saw minus 18 degrees, and Fargo, N.D., had minus 23 degrees. The temperature in Minneapolis reached a low of minus 23.
Schools were closed in Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and the entire state of Minnesota as people were warned to keep children out of the cold. Cities urged taking pets indoors.
The most brutal cold will continue overnight in the upper Midwest, with wind chills in the minus 50s and minus 60s, said AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines.
“In the East, the brunt of the cold air will be tonight (Monday night) and Tuesday,” he said. With the wind chill, it will feel like it’s in the minus teens and minus twenties across much of the eastern part of the country on Tuesday, he said.
American Airlines said it was so cold that fuel supplies were freezing at Chicago’s O’Hare International and other airports in the Midwest and Northeast.
“Our employees are only able to be out on the ramp for a few minutes at a time because wind chills are as low as 45 below zero at some airports,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said.
Road travel was little better.
In Illinois, some 375 vehicles became stuck in a snowy stretch of Interstates 57 and 70 near Effingham. Snow drifts as high as 8-feet piled up Sunday night, blocking passage and covering cars. State emergency management director Jonathon Monken (cq from ap)said it took 100 workers and more than six hours to clear the mess.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared a state disaster and activated the National Guard.In Indiana, the General Assembly postponed the opening of its 2014 session, and the state appellate courts shut down.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence ordered the National Guard to help stranded motorists, moving people to shelters and transporting emergency medical services. to those in need. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard upgraded the city’s travel emergency level, making it illegal to drive except in emergencies or seeking shelter. The last time the city issued such a travel warning was in 1978.
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The so-called “polar vortex” — the mass of cold air swirling over the North Pole that broke away and roared south — is sliding East. New Yorkers who saw temperatures above 50 degrees Monday morning will see them drop to single digits Monday night. Tuesday’s forecast high: 11 degrees.
Southern states are bracing for possible record temperatures, too, with single-digit highs expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.
Temperatures in some areas of Georgia were expected to stay below freezing for more than 48 hours, with record cold lows likely Tuesday morning. Wind chill values will be below zero in some areas Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s in parts of Florida on Tuesday. Though Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows said it must be at 28 degrees or lower for four hours straight for fruit to freeze badly, fruits and vegetables were a concern in other parts of the South.
With two freezing nights ahead, Louisiana citrus farmers could lose any fruit they cannot pick in time.
In Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, Ben Becnel Jr. estimated that Ben & Ben Becnel Inc. had about 5,000 bushels of fruit on the trees, mostly navel oranges and the sweet, thin-skinned mandarin oranges called satsumas.
“We’re scrambling right now,” he said.
Steve Cochrane, director of regional economics at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pa., said the cold’s economic impact will be small for the nation’s economy, though it will be felt locally.
“You spend less when you are hunkered down and more later on,” Cochrane said.