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Persistent below-zero temps visit Midwest again this winter

Published 9:45am Monday, January 27, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — Subzero temperatures, high winds and drifting snow have closed schools and major roadways in Minnesota, with state officials cautioning against unnecessary travel.

The Minnesota State Patrol and the Department of Transportation advise against venturing out in southern and western Minnesota. Highway 210 from Breckenridge to Fergus Falls was closed due to deep drifting snow. Interstate 94 from Moorhead to Alexandria and Highway 10 from Moorhead to Detroit Lakes were reopened this morning.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning statewide through noon Tuesday. Daytime temperatures of 10 below to 15 below are expected, with the wind pushing those readings to as much as 45 below zero.

Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management worked with local officials to open warning shelters in several cities. National Guard armories in Albert Lea and Olivia are open to the public.

A persistent weather pattern that’s driving Arctic air south was forecast to force temperatures to plummet for about 2 1/2 days, starting overnight Sunday. Actual temperatures will range from the teens in northern Kentucky to double-digits below zero in Minnesota, but even colder wind chills were expected — minus 43 in Minneapolis, minus 23 in Chicago, minus 18 in Dayton, Ohio, minus 14 in Kansas City, Mo., and minus 3 in Louisville, Ky.

Before sunrise Monday at a 24-hour drugstore in Omaha, Neb., where wind chills were at 21 below, Amy Henry said she was longing for warmer weather.

“I just look at my (apartment) pool every day and say, ‘Oh, come on, summer,”’ the 36-year-old store clerk said.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Scott Blair stopped short of calling the latest round of cold part of the polar vortex, a system of winds that circulate around the North Pole.

“There’s really nothing abnormal about the air that’s coming into the area,” he said. “It’s just been a very persistent pattern” of cold air.

Despite the thermometer reading just 7 degrees in Grand Rapids, Mich., 47-year-old Gary Sloan said the cold would not disrupt his day. The salesman at Used Car Motor Mall said it’s just a matter of dressing correctly.

“This type of weather, you’ve got to come armored. You’ve got to have your snow pants. You’ve got to have your boots,” Sloan said, adding that the roads were clear and there was no reason to stay home from work.

Frigid temperatures are expected to hold into Tuesday. If Chicago makes it to 60 hours below zero, it will be the longest stretch since 1983 — when it was below zero for 98 hours — and the third longest in 80 years.

“I’m sick of it,” Chicago resident Matt Ryan, 19, said Sunday. Temperatures in the city were expected to peak at a mere minus 4 degrees on Monday with wind chills as low as 40 below.

Chicago Public Schools called off Monday’s classes for its nearly 400,000 students, as did suburban districts. Earlier this month, when it was below zero for 36 straight hours, CPS closed for two days. Amtrak canceled more than a dozen trains into and out of Chicago.

About 90 miles north of Chicago, Ray Fournelle lamented the weather’s ability to keep him from his normal routine of jogging 4 miles a couple of times a week.

“With all the snow and ice on the sidewalks, you just slide around out there. It’s just rotten,” he said Sunday.

In the northern U.S., North Dakota and South Dakota residents dealt with dangerous cold and wind gusts Sunday that reached up to 60 mph — blowing snow to the point where it was nearly impossible to travel in some spots. On Monday, snow drifts kept Interstate 29 closed from Sioux Falls to the Canadian border. In Indiana, where 50 mph gusts were recorded early Monday, officials recommended only essential travel in more than half of its counties.

In Windom, southwestern Minnesota, drifting snow and whiteout conditions closed several highways Sunday, stranding about 70 people, including a bus full of hockey players, at a recreation center for the night.

The surprise overnight guests also included three dogs.

“You can’t very well keep your dogs out in the car,” said Greg Warner, manager of the Business Arts and Recreation Center.

In Michigan, which has in parts experienced its snowiest January on record, expressways closed as snow and subfreezing temperatures played a role in multiple crashes Sunday; at least three people died over the weekend because of weather-related accidents.

Business is far from usual this winter for Alex Alfidi, manager at Leo’s Coney Island restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham. His 24-hour restaurant been getting some carryout patrons, but the casual walk-in customers have stayed away.

“We slowed down big time,” the 39-year-old said. Alfidi has logged 15 years in Michigan, and says he’s seen some challenging winters.

“This is the biggest one,” he said.

Even the nation’s northernmost city, Barrow, Alaska, will be warmer than much of the Upper Midwest on Monday; it’s expected to reach minus 4.