A powerful winter storm set record low temperatures in the northern Plains of the US, while a heat wave in the Southeast set record highs for the month of February – leaving the country with an unusually stark temperature difference of more than 100 degrees.
Much of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas had temperatures below zero Wednesday afternoon, including minus 9 degrees in Cut Bank, Montana. At the same time, much of the South, from Texas to the Carolinas, had afternoon temperatures above 80 degrees, including a scorching 95 in McAllen, Texas.
The extreme cold in the North is just one aspect of the coast-to-coast storm bringing heavy snow, high winds and ice on Wednesday, putting parts of more than two dozen states under winter weather alerts as travel conditions begin to deteriorate in some areas.
More than 65 million people across 29 states, from as far west as California to Minnesota through Maine, were under winter weather alerts as of Wednesday morning, including warnings of severe icing, extreme cold and sleet that are likely to make travel dangerous and knock out power to some.
The Upper Midwest is expected to bear the brunt of the storm in terms of snowfall, with the Minneapolis area likely getting more than 20 inches Wednesday and more than 2 feet over the multiday storm – potentially the most in 30 years.
The Twin Cities reported 3 to 5 inches of snow Wednesday morning, and a second round of snow and high winds is expected at night into Thursday morning, making for life-threatening travel conditions, the National Weather Service said. The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced Wednesday afternoon that various state highways and I-90 are closed due to blizzard conditions and poor visibility.
But it’s more than just snow. An ice storm warning is in place for more than 9 million people across a stretch from Iowa to southern Michigan. Also, significant icing is possible for the mid-Atlantic by late Wednesday; a severe weather threat and high winds are possible from Oklahoma to Missouri; and flooding is likely from heavy rain in parts of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
And more than 2 million were under blizzard warnings across parts of Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
Meanwhile, warm weather prevailed in parts of the South and a few other areas. More than 30 high-temperature records for the calendar day were broken, including Nashville, Tennessee (80 degrees), Mobile, Alabama (82), Charleston, West Virginia (78), and Cincinnati (72).
The Southeast generally saw temperatures in the 70s and 80s –– a stark contrast to the frigid conditions further north.
Out west, strong winds from the powerful storm tore down power lines and initially knocked out power to more than 140,000 homes and businesses in California on Tuesday, with many of the outages happening in the northern counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.us. As of Wednesday evening, almost 60,000 California outages remained.
Power outages also were afflicting parts of the Midwest Wednesday evening as snow and freezing rain hit the region. Almost 500,000 customers were without power in four states there, including more than 340,000 in Michigan and more than 115,000 in Illinois, according to the tracking site.
California still is bracing for several feet of snow expected in the mountains with a few inches possible in lower elevations, the National Weather Service in Los Angeles said.
An in an extremely rare event for that part of the country, blizzard warnings have been issued for the mountains of California’s Los Angeles and Ventura counties, taking effect early Friday morning and lasting through Saturday afternoon. This is the first blizzard warning that the weather service’s Los Angeles office has issued since February 1989, the office said.
“Nearly (the) entire population of California will be able to see snow from some vantage point later this week if they look in the right direction,” according to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The unseasonable weather for the state comes nearly two months after rounds of deadly flooding battered many areas.
“Now is the time to prepare for a COLD AND DANGEROUS winter storm expected for much of the week,” the weather service in Los Angeles said. “Gusty and potentially damaging winds are also expected.”
For Minneapolis, the “historic” three-day storm “will bring widespread accumulating snow, with blowing and drifting snow mainly Wednesday through Thursday,” the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities said.
The worst impacts over the Twin Cities region – which generally includes the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul and their surrounding suburbs – are expected to begin late Wednesday into Thursday. Heavy snow is expected to blanket the grounds fairly quickly, and be accompanied by gusty winds.
The weather service said to expect sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 40 mph that will lead to blizzard conditions Wednesday afternoon. A second round of snow overnight could produce another 9 to 12 inches, with some areas getting up to 15 inches, the service said.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz directed the state’s National Guard, the transportation department and the state patrol to be prepared to respond storm impacts, he said on Twitter.
“We’re working to ensure we’re ready – and Minnesotans have a part to play, too. Plan ahead, drive safe, and limit travel,” Walz wrote.
Parts of the Upper Midwest could see snow fall at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour, combined with wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph, the National Weather Service said. That unrelenting double whammy is set to create whiteout conditions due to falling and blowing snow.
Those expected conditions have put more than 2 million people are under blizzard warnings across parts of Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
• Minneapolis: The city could pick up between 15 and 25 inches snow by Thursday. That would be in addition to the 1 to 3 inches that have already fallen there.
• Sioux Falls, South Dakota: In addition to the up to 4 inches of snow the state has already seen, snowfall up to 16 inches and winds of 45 mph are also expected.
• Cheyenne, Wyoming: Heavy snowfall up to 1 foot expected in addition to high winds that could feel as cold as 35 below zero.
• Potentially dangerous icing: Milwaukee in Wisconsin and Detroit and Ann Arbor in Michigan are likely to experience icing beginning Wednesday.
• Severe thunderstorms: Damaging winds and rain are expected Wednesday morning through the afternoon in parts of Oklahoma into western Arkansas, across Missouri and western Illinois, according to the National Weather Service.
Wednesday’s expected conditions have spurred states to take safety measures.
South Dakota’s governor announced Tuesday the closures of state government executive branch offices Wednesday in more than half of the state’s 66 counties, with plans for employees to work remotely. Additionally, interstates 29 and 90 partially closed Tuesday night to prepare for the expected snow.
South Dakota officials announced Wednesday they will be closing sections of those two interstates.
In Minnesota, various state highways and portions of I-90 were closed Wednesday due to blizzard conditions. Still, more than 100 crashes had been reported across the state between 7:30 to 11:30 a.m., according to the Minnesota State Patrol. An additional 34 crashes were reported in the following four hours.
Meanwhile, in Wyoming, several institutions decided to shutter their doors Wednesday, and portions of I-25 and I-80 were closed.
Eastern Wyoming College announced the closure of its main campus. The Natrona County school district in Casper will conduct a virtual learning day Wednesday due to hazardous weather and road conditions throughout the area, the district said.
The Food Bank of Wyoming, which says it serves all 23 counties across the state, planned to close Wednesday, it said in a tweet.