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 wave that could break records.
A whirlpool of frigid, dense air known as a “polar vortex” was expected to suppress temperatures in more than half of the continental U.S. starting into today and Tuesday, with wind chill warnings stretching from Montana to Alabama.
It was 5 degrees at kickoff Sunday afternoon inside sold-out Lambeau Field for a playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, one of the coldest ever played.
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.
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.
The St. Louis area had about a foot of snow, and northern Indiana had 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 very 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 daily record, National 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 minus 15 to minus 30.
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 international airport in St. Louis.
Southern states are bracing for possible record temperatures, too, with single-digit highs expected Tuesday in Georgia and Alabama.