IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Subzero temperatures grip Upper Midwest

People are shivering from the upper Midwest to the East Coast as huge arctic air mass worked its way East from the Northern Plains.
Hundreds of gulls huddle for protection from cold air on the harbor ice in Kenosha
Hundreds of gulls huddle for protection from cold air on the harbor ice in Kenosha, Wis., on Sunday.Allen Fredrickson / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A bone-chilling arctic cold wave with temperatures as low as 42 below zero shut down schools for thousands of youngsters Monday, halted some Amtrak service and put car batteries on the disabled list from the northern Plains across the Great Lakes.

The cold was accompanied by snow that was measured in feet in parts of upstate New York.

“Anybody in their right mind wouldn’t want to be out in weather like this,” Lawrence Wiley, 57, said at the Drop Inn Center homeless shelter where he has been living in Cincinnati. Monday lows in the area were in the single digits.

With temperatures near zero and a wind chill of 25 below, school districts across Ohio canceled classes. “We have a lot of kids that walk to school. We didn’t think it was worth the risk,” Sandusky City Schools Superintendent Bill Pahl said.

It was so cold that Toledo, Ohio — 5 above zero at noon, up from 4 below — even closed its outdoor ice rink. “The irony is not lost on us,” said city spokesman Brian Schwartz.

With a temperature of 12 below zero and wind chill of 31 below, Wisconsin’s largest school district, Milwaukee Public Schools, also shut down, idling some 90,000 children. In upstate New York 34,000 kids got the day off in Rochester because of near-zero temperatures. Schools also closed in parts of Michigan.

Mercury falls at International Falls
Even in Minnesota, where February cold is the norm and people are accustomed to coping, some charter schools closed.

In northern Minnesota, the temperature crashed to 42 below Monday morning at Embarrass, 38 below at Hallock and 30 below at International Falls, the weather service said.

Veterinarian Wade Himes wasn’t too concerned as he ate breakfast at the Shorelunch Cafe in International Falls.

“We get up and go to work, and people come and see us. I don’t think anything changes that much. (You) just dress warm,” said Himes, 69.

Grand Forks, N.D., also registered 30 below.

“For this time of year, this isn’t that unusual, as far as temperatures go,” said weather service meteorologist Bill Abeling in Bismarck. “To get record temperatures this time of year in North Dakota, you’ve got to delve down in the 40-below region, so we’re not even close.”

Hayward, Wis., fell to 27 below on Monday, with a wind chill of minus 36, and wind chills around the state dipped to nearly 40 below.

Amtrak shuts down service
Amtrak shut down passenger service in parts of western and northern New York state, where the cold was accompanied by as much as 2 feet of snow fed by moisture from the Great Lakes near Buffalo and Watertown. Whiteout conditions and slippery pavement shut down a 38-mile stretch of the New York Thruway during the night.

At least 30 water main breaks were blamed on the cold in Detroit, city Water and Sewerage Department spokesman George Ellenwood told The Detroit News.

The cold also brought calls for help from car owners faced with dead batteries and frozen locks.

“During the weekend, 10,000 motorists called for assistance. And that’s a record in recent years,” Nancy Cain, spokeswoman for AAA Michigan, said Monday. “This morning we’ve already had 300 calls for help.”

Cold over the weekend
Areas that saw cold throughout the weekend included St. Paul, Minn., where Mayor Chris Coleman intervened when officials moved to cancel Saturday night’s Winter Carnival parade. Coleman got them to hold a smaller version, covering just three blocks in downtown St. Paul.

And weekend snowstorms were blamed in numerous pileups. At least two people were killed in Ohio when their car was hit by a truck during a freeway crash blamed on a whiteout.

In eastern Michigan, a pileup of 20 vehicles forced a highway to close for several hours in Genesee County. In the western portion of the state, 50 vehicles crashed on U.S. 131. Neither pileup caused fatalities.

In Duluth, Mike Thamm said in the seven years of the Polar Bear Plunge — a benefit for the Special Olympics — this was the first time participants were not jumping into Lake Superior. The event was moved Saturday to the back of a local pub when the wind chill factor neared the 30-below-zero mark.

“That way when you climb out of the water you can run right inside and warm up,” he said.