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Tuesday 30 September 2014

US hit by 'polar vortex' cold spell

Published 05/01/2014 | 05:52

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Anna Maksimkina, of Yekaterinburg, Russia, sleeps on the floor at Kennedy International Airport after a Delta flight from Toronto to New York skidded off the runway into a snow bank, temporarily halting all flights (AP)
A woman raises her hands as she crosses the street in Chicago (AP)
Two people help a stranded motorist up snow-covered exit ramp on I-44 in St. Louis, Missouri (AP)

Snow-covered roads, high winds and ice were creating dangerous driving conditions in the US from the Midwest to the Northeast on Sunday ahead of a "polar vortex" that will bring below-zero Fahrenheit (below minus 18 Celsius) - and possibly record-breaking temperatures not seen in years to much of the country.

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The counterclockwise-rotating pool of cold, dense air will affect more than half of the continental US throughout Sunday and into Monday and Tuesday, with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.

With it comes a startling forecast: 25 below zero Fahrenheit (31 below zero Celsius) in Fargo, North Dakota, minus 31 F (minus 35 C) in International Falls, Minnesota, and 15 below F (26 below C) in Indianapolis and Chicago.

"It's just a dangerous cold," National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye in Missouri said.

Several states in the Midwest were getting walloped with up to a foot of new snow and residents shoveled out and stocked up on groceries before bitterly cold temperatures set in overnight.

Five to seven inches (12.5 to 17.5 centimetres) fell overnight in the Chicago area while eight to ten inches (20 to 25 centimetres) was expected to fall in central Illinois, Indiana and Michigan on Sunday, National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Fenelon said.

Forecasts also called for several inches (centimetres) in western Tennessee and one to three inches (2.5 to 7.5 centimetres) in Kentucky.

In Chicago, temperatures were expected to fall throughout Sunday to about 11 degrees F (minus 11.5 C) by 5pm, "and from there it will be a free fall for the rest of the night," with temperatures bottoming out around minus 15 F (minus 26 C) overnight and likely setting a daily record, Mr Fenelon said.

Earlier on Sunday, the National Weather Service reported temperatures in the 20-below F (29-below C) range in northern Minnesota and Grand Forks, North Dakota.

It has not been that cold for almost two decades in many parts of the US.

Because of that, medical experts are reminding people that frostbite and hypothermia can set in quickly at 15 to 30 below zero F (26 to 34.4 below zero C), and say it is key to dress in layers, hats and gloves.

In St. Louis, grocery stores sold out of the essentials before Sunday's weather onslaught.

"The problem is the bread is sold out. We're out of milk. We sold out of chips, chicken wings, some meats," Issa Arar of Salama Supermarket said.

Travel problems started early on 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 for two hours because of icy runways.

About 1,200 flights had been cancelled on Sunday at O'Hare and Midway international airports in Chicago, aviation officials said, and there also were cancellations at Logan International Airport in Boston and Tennessee's Memphis and Nashville international airports.

AP

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