Brutal winter weather bringing snow, dangerous winds and bitter cold settled over much of the northern US on Wednesday, shutting down roadways, closing schools and businesses and prompting warnings for people to stay home.
The massive storm with blizzard-like conditions to the north was part of a wild weather day across the US. Wind gusts, combined with snow and rain, forced closure of a long stretch of interstate highway in the south-west. Meanwhile, many places in the mid-Atlantic down to Florida are expected to see record high temperatures, in some cases up to 40F above normal.
In the north, the storm was expected to dump up to 2ft of snow in some areas. Emergency management leaders warned of potential “whiteout” conditions. Schools throughout the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin were called off on Wednesday. Offices closed and so did the Minnesota legislature. The South Dakota governor, Kristi Noem, shut down state executive branch offices in several parts of the state.
In Wyoming, virtually every road was impacted. Officials warned closures could last for days.
“Please change travel plans if your are coming towards Wyoming, waiting to go west from Cheyenne or Laramie on I-80, or waiting to go east on I-80 from Rock Springs,” the state department of transportation said.
The storm will make its way toward the east coast later in the week. Places that do not get snow may get dangerous ice. Forecasters expect up to a half-inch of ice in areas of southern Michigan, northern Illinois and some eastern states.
The snowfall could be historic. As much as 25in may pile up, with the heaviest amounts falling across east-central Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin, the National Weather Service (NWS) said. Wind gusts could reach 50mph and wind chills are expected to hit -50F (-46C) in some parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota.
The Minneapolis-St Paul area could see 2ft of snow or more for the first time in over 30 years.
The weather service said the blizzard would involve two rounds. For the Minneapolis-St Paul area, the first blast arrives on Wednesday afternoon with up to 7in of snow. Round two extending into Thursday is the real whopper, “with an additional 10 to 20in expected”.
An NWS meteorologist, Frank Pereira, said the system was expected to affect about 43 million people.
Temperatures could plunge to -15F to -20F on Thursday and to -25F on Friday in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wind chills may fall to -50F, said Nathan Rick, a meteorologist in Grand Forks.
Wind gusts of 35mph will be common in western and central Minnesota, with some reaching 50mph. That will result in “significant blowing and drifting snow with whiteout conditions in open areas”, the NWS said.
According to the NWS, the biggest snow event on record in the Twin Cities was 28.4in from 31 October to 3 November 1991 – known as the Halloween Blizzard.
“They’re not going to get them in time for this snow,” VandenBos said.
Forecasters at AccuWeather said the same storm system could result in icing across a 1,300-mile band from near Omaha, Nebraska, to New Hampshire on Wednesday and Thursday, creating potential travel hazards in or near cities such as Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.
In the south-west on Wednesday, a more than 200-mile stretch of Interstate 40 from central Arizona to the New Mexico line closed due to wind gusts up to 80mph, plus snow and rain. Thousands were without power in Arizona.
But record warmth was expected in the mid-Atlantic and south-east – 30F to 40F above normal in some places. Record highs are expected from Baltimore to New Orleans and in much of Florida. Washington DC could hit 80F on Thursday, which would top the record of 78F set in 1874.
California was also preparing for a winter storm of its own. A “major snow event” was possible in foothills and mountains near Los Angeles, with several inches predicted even for elevations as low as 1,000ft, the NWS said.
“Nearly the entire population of California will be able to see snow from some vantage point later this week,” a UCLA climate scientist, Daniel Swain, wrote on Twitter.
Daytime temperatures in southern California were unlikely to get out of the low to mid-50sF and potentially damaging winds reaching 50mph were predicted along the central coast, with gusts of 70mph possible in mountains.