CHICAGO » Icy, snow-covered roads and high winds made travel treacherous Sunday from the Dakotas and Michigan to Missouri as much of the nation braced for the next winter wallop: a dangerous cold that could break records.
A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a "polar vortex" was expected to suppress temperatures on more than half of the mainland starting today and into 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 minus 15 in Indianapolis and Chicago. Wind chills — what it feels like outside when high winds are factored into the temperature — could drop into the minus 50s and 60s. Northeastern Montana was warned of wind chills up to 59 below zero.
"It’s just a dangerous cold," said National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye in Missouri.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard upgraded the city’s travel emergency level to "red," making it illegal for anyone to drive except for emergency personnel, for emergency purposes or to seek shelter. The last time the city issued such a travel warning was during the 1978 blizzard.
Several Midwestern states received up to a foot of new snow Sunday. The National Weather Service said snowfall at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago totaled more than 11 inches as of 6 p.m. Sunday — the most since the Feb. 2, 2011, storm that shut down the city’s famed Lake Shore Drive.
The St. Louis area had about a foot of snow, and northern Indiana got at least 8 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 said it was too cold for rock salt to be effective.
Authorities also urged people to check on elderly and disabled relatives and neighbors.
In Chicago, temperatures were expected to bottom out around minus 15 overnight, likely setting a record, weather service meteorologist Ed Fenelon said. Earlier Sunday, temperatures sank to minus 20 and colder in northern Minnesota and Grand Forks, N.D.
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 in 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.
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 1,300 flights had been canceled Sunday at O’Hare and Midway international airports in Chicago, aviation officials said, and there also were cancellations at Logan International Airport in Boston, Tennessee’s Memphis and Nashville international airports, and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
School was called off today for the entire state of Minnesota, as well as cities and districts in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, among others.
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 had 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.
Tammy Webber and Kerry Lester, Associated Press