Icy, snow-covered roads and high winds have made travel treacherous from the Dakotas to Michigan and Missouri as much of the US prepared for dangerously cold temperatures that could break records.
A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a “polar vortex” was expected to suppress temperatures in more than half of the continental US beginning today and tomorrow, with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.
The forecast is extreme: minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit ( minus 31 Celsius) in Fargo, North Dakota, minus 31 F (minus 35 C) in International Falls, Minnesota, and 15 below zero F (minus 26 C) in Indianapolis and Chicago.
Wind chills – what it feels like outside when high winds are factored into the temperature – could drop into the negative 50s and 60s Fahrenheit. North-eastern Montana has been warned of wind chills up to 59 below zero F ( minus 51 C).
“It’s just a dangerous cold,” National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye said in Missouri.
Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard upgraded the city’s travel emergency level to “red”, making it illegal for anyone to drive except for emergency staff, emergency purposes or seeking shelter. The last time the city issued a travel warning was during the 1978 blizzard.
Several Midwestern states received up to 1ft of new snow yesterday. The National Weather Service said snowfall at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago was more than 11ins as of 6pm local time – the most since the February 2 2011 storm.
In Chicago, temperatures were expected to bottom out around minus 15 F (minus 26 C) overnight, probably setting a daily record, National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Fenelon said. Earlier, temperatures sank to 20-below F (29-below C) and colder in northern Minnesota and Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The deep freeze extended into Canada where parts of eastern Alberta and north-west Ontario were under wind chill warnings. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, temperatures fell to minus 22 F (minus 30 C) yesterday.
It has not been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the US. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at 15 to 30 below zero F (26 to 34.4 below zero C).
Travel problems started early. In New York City, a plane from Toronto landed at Kennedy International Airport and then slid into snow on a taxiway. No one was hurt, though the airport temporarily suspended operations because of icy runways.
About 1,300 flights had been cancelled Sunday at O’Hare and Midway international airports in Chicago and there also were cancellations at Logan International Airport in Boston and Tennessee’s Memphis and Nashville international airports.
School was called off Monday for the entire state of Minnesota, as well as cities and districts in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, among others. Chicago school bosses also cancelled classes for today.
Southern states were bracing for possible record cold temperatures, too, with single-digit F highs (highs from minus 13 to minus 17 C) expected tomorrow in Georgia and Alabama.
Temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s F (single digits C) in parts of Florida tomorrow. But Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows said it must be at 28 degrees F (minus 2 C) or lower four hours straight for fruit to freeze badly.