A weekend of ferocious winter weather could see low-temperature records set in the US heartland

Allison Melowsky and wife Sarah Melowsky sled down Cricket Hill with their kids Parker, 7, and Zane, 4, in the Uptown neighborhood after a major snowstorm hit the Chicago area, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. (Pat Nabong /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)


The Associated Press

O’FALLON, Mo. A long weekend of ferocious winter weather loomed across the U.S. on Saturday, as a continuing wave of Arctic storms threatened to break low-temperature records in the heartland, spread cold and snow coast to coast and cast a chill over everything from football playoffs to presidential campaigns.

As the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend began, the weather forecast was a crazy quilt of color-coded advisories, from an ice storm warning in Oregon to a blizzard warning in the northern Plains to high wind warnings in New Mexico.

“It’s, overall, been a terrible, terrible winter. And it came out of nowhere — two days,” Dan Abinana said as he surveyed a snowy Des Moines, Iowa. He moved to the state from Tanzania as a child years ago, but said “you never get used to the snow.”

In Portland, Oregon, medical examiners were investigating a hypothermia death as freezing rain and heavy snow fell in a city more accustomed to mild winter rains, and hundreds of people took shelter overnight at warming centers. Weather-related deaths already were reported earlier in the week in California, Idaho, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen announced a state of emergency Saturday, citing “very dangerous conditions.” Parts of the state have received up to 2 feet of snow in two separate storms over the past week, and wind chills were well below zero.

“This event is not going away tonight. It’s not going away tomorrow,” Pillen said at a news conference “It’s going to take a number of days.”

About 1,700 miles of Nebraska highways were closed due to heavy snow. State police assisted over 400 stranded motorists, said Col. John A. Bolduc, head of the Nebraska State Patrol.

A woman walks with an umbrella during a snowy day in Wheeling, Ill., Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

In Iowa, some cars were stuck for five hours in blowing snow on Interstate 80 after semitrailers jackknifed in slippery conditions, blocking traffic and leaving 100 vehicles trapped. Altogether, state troopers had handled 86 crashes and 535 motorist-assist calls since Friday, State Patrol Sgt. Alex Dinkla said.

Road crews were “working the snow-blowers like crazy,” Dinkla said, but high winds were blowing snow right back onto roadways.

Governors from New York to Louisiana warned residents to be prepared for worrisome weather.

Parts of Montana fell below minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit Saturday morning, and the National Weather Service said similar temperatures were expected as far as northern Kansas, with minus 50 F possible in the Dakotas. In St. Louis, too, the National Weather Service warned of rare and “life-threatening” cold.

“We’ve had, now, multiple back-to-back storms” parading across the country, weather service meteorologist Zach Taylor said. That typically happens at least a couple of times in the U.S. winter.

Still, to Eboni Jones of Des Moines, it felt unusual for “how much we’re getting all within one week.”

“It’s pretty crazy out,” Jones said while shoveling snow.

Des Moines residents Katy Becker, 26, and Dalton Gustafson, 30, were hoping to fly to Florida to celebrate their engagement and Becker’s birthday on Jan. 16. They got snowed in but planned to try again Sunday.

“Negative 20 to 80 degrees — 100-degree flip in temperature,” Gustafson said.

The temperature in parts of Iowa could dip as low as minus 14 F on Monday, when the state’s caucuses kick off the U.S. presidential primary season. And that was to say nothing of the wind: Forecasters said it would be Wednesday before below-zero windchills go away.

Republican contenders Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and former President Donald Trump all canceled campaign events because of the winter storm.

Electricity was out Saturday afternoon in hundreds of thousands of households and businesses, mainly in Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin, according to poweroutage.us.

Snow continues to fall over the American Gothic Barn on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Blizzard conditions will develop in eastern Iowa later Friday until around noon on Saturday. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette via AP)

In South Dakota, the morning temperature was minus 17 F at the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation, but a whipping wind of 30 mph made it feel like minus 48 F. With a homeless shelter already at capacity, tribal leaders opened a gym for others needing shelter.

In New York state, Gov. Kathy Hochul warned of a “dangerous storm” as she announced that the Buffalo Bills-Pittsburgh Steelers NFL playoff game was postponed from Sunday to Monday. Residents of the county that includes Buffalo were told to stay off the roads starting at 9 p.m. Saturday, with the forecast calling for 1 to 2 feet or more of snow and winds gusting as high as 65 mph.

Kansas City, Missouri, was set to host a frigid playoff game Saturday night, when the Chiefs host the Miami Dolphins. The temperature at kickoff was expected to be minus 2 F, with the wind making it feel like minus 24 F.

Still, hundreds of fans lined up hours early outside the Arrowhead Stadium parking lots. Some came with ski goggles, heated socks and other winter gear they bought for the game.

Chiefs season ticket holder Keaton Schlatter and his friends had considered trying to sell their seats, as many other fans did.

“But we decided that it’s all part of the experience, and we didn’t want to miss it,” said Schlatter, of West Des Moines, Iowa.

Back in the Des Moines area, Grant Rampton also was making the best of the weather. The 25-year-old was sledding with friends Saturday at a golf course, despite a wind chill of minus 20 F. He fought off the cold with layers of clothing, insulated socks and constant movement.

“It’s a great state to be in,” said Rampton, a lifelong Iowan. “There’s not as much to do, in winter especially, but you can make your own fun, like out here, sledding with your friends.”

The snow was welcome in at least one place.

Philip Spitzley of Lake Odessa, Michigan, woke up Friday to 95 small snowmen in his front yard to celebrate his 95th birthday. Fifteen family members and a neighbor conspired on the snow-packing job, which took about 90 minutes.

“I was quite surprised,” Spitzley said. “I sat right here watching my TV and didn’t know they were out there. Then I saw flashlights.”

The display has turned into a spectacle as motorists slow down for a look. And with days of cold weather ahead, “they’ll be there awhile,” Spitzley said.