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Sub-zero temps grip Midwest

Jan. 05, 2014 @ 11:06 PM

CHICAGO -- Snow-covered roads and high winds created treacherous driving Sunday from the Dakotas to Michigan and Missouri as residents braced for the next round of bad weather: dangerously cold temperatures that could break records across much of the nation.

Temperatures were being suppressed by a "polar vortex," a counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air that will affect more than half of the continental U.S. throughout Sunday and into Monday and Tuesday, with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.

The forecast is extreme: 25 below zero in Fargo, N.D., minus 31 in International Falls, Minn., and 15 below 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. Northeastern Montana was warned Sunday of wind chills up to 59 below zero.

"It's just a dangerous cold," National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye in Missouri said.

The National Weather Service in Charleston had issued a winter weather advisory for much of the Tri-State from 10 p.m. Sunday, when snow was expected to move into the area, through noon Monday. Meterologists were predicting 1 to 2 inches of snowfall locally, but accumulations were expected to vary widely throughout the state, with Mercer, Summers and Greenbrier counties receiving anywhere from 2 to 5 inches, and up to 9 inches of snow expected in western Greenbrier County.

And after the snow comes frigid cold and a brutal wind chill. Temperatures expected Monday night include minus 12 degrees in Elkins, minus 9 degrees in Beckley, minus 7 degrees in Huntington and minus 5 degrees in Charleston.

Wind chill warnings are in effect from 4 p.m. Monday through 3 p.m. Tuesday with wind chill factors of minus 20 to minus 30 degrees forecasted.

The storm came earlier Sunday to several Midwestern states which were walloped by up to a foot of new snow. Five to 9 inches fell in the Chicago area by Sunday afternoon, while the St. Louis area had about a foot of snow and northern Indiana had at least 8 inches. Central Illinois was bracing for 8 to 10 inches, and southern Michigan could see up to 15 inches.

Officials closed several Illinois roadways because of drifting snow, and warned residents to stay inside. Roads in the Midwest were particularly dangerous, and officials in Missouri warned it was too cold for rock salt to be very effective.

Authorities also urged residents to check on elderly and disabled relatives and neighbors.

In Chicago, temperatures were expected to bottom out around minus 15 overnight, likely setting a daily record, National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Fenelon said. Earlier Sunday, temperatures sank to 20-below and colder in northern Minnesota and Grand Forks, N.D.

Despite the dangerous cold, Green Bay Packers fans packed Lambeau Field for Sunday's NFL playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers. It could be among the coldest ever played: It was 5 degrees at kickoff, which was warmer than expected.

"We suited up, we brought all the snowboarding gear we use ... and added to it," said 49ers fan Jeff Giardinelli of Fresno, Calif., as he walked across a parking lot with a friend. "Without the wind, which isn't here yet, we're good. When it gets windy, we'll be ready for it."

It hasn't been this cold for almost two decades in many parts of the country. Frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at 15 to 30 below zero.

Lorna West, a 43-year-old student and consultant from Columbus, Ohio, said she doesn't believe people unaccustomed to such weather are ready for what's coming.

A Chicago native, she said thermal underwear, lots of layers and "Eskimo coats" with zipped hoods to block the wind were the norm growing up.

"And don't go out if you don't have to," she said.

Kentuckians were preparing Sunday for the strongest winter storm the state has seen in two decades, even though the initial forecast for snow has been scaled back.

While the worst of the weather wasn't expected until Sunday afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Spaeth in Paducah said that once it arrives, 1 to 3 inches of snow and temperatures below zero were expected throughout the day and into Monday.

Joe Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville, said those temperatures would be anywhere from 20 to 40 degrees below normal highs in the 40s and lows in the mid-20s.

Sullivan said a low pressure area was slowly moving north along the Mississippi River, but once it moved east of Louisville, the cold air would follow. Spaeth said the cold blast is expected to last through all of Monday, with wind chills in the range of 15 below zero to 20 below zero for parts of the state.

"Just find a warm spot and hang out there for the day," Spaeth said.

In Michigan, residents jammed stores to stock up on supplies.

"I made my husband go grocery shopping last night," said Kim Tarnopol, 46, of the Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods. Tarnopol was picking up cold medicine Sunday for her daughter Emma at a CVS in nearby Berkley, Mich.

Travel problems started early Sunday. 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 1,200 flights had been cancelled Sunday at O'Hare and Midway international airports in Chicago, aviation officials said, 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 and Indiana and Iowa, among others. Chicago officials said school would be in session for the nation's third-largest district, though absences would be excused.

Southern states are bracing for possible record temperatures, too, with single-digit highs expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.

Temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s in parts of Florida on Tuesday. But Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows said it must be at 28 degrees or lower four hours straight for fruit to freeze badly.

In western Kentucky, which could see 1 to 3 inches of snow, Smithland farmer David Nickell moved extra hay to the field and his animals out of the wind. He'd also stocked up on batteries and gas and loaded up the pantry and freezer. The 2009 ice storm that paralyzed the state and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people is fresh in his mind.

"We are hoping this isn't going to be more than a few days of cold weather, but we did learn with the ice storm that you can wake up in the 19th century and you need to be able to not only survive, but be comfortable and continue with your basic day-to-day functions," Nickell said.

In Mt. Prospect, Ill., Steve White spent part of Sunday raking his roof with a specially made pole to prevent icicles as he prepares for a trip to Costa Rica in the coming days. He also installed a thermostat that directly faces a window, so a neighbor can check to make sure his furnace is working.

"I'm just glad I'm here to take care of it," he said.

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