CHICAGO, Feb 21 (Reuters) – A winter storm sweeping across the U.S. West Plains and Midwest on Tuesday brought brutal cold and record snowfall, making roads dangerous and air travel snarled.
The National Weather Service issued winter storm, blizzard and high wind advisories for large parts of the western and north-central United States. Up to two feet (61 cm) of snow and wind gusts of up to 60 mph (97 km/h) are possible in some places Tuesday through Thursday.
Snowfall of up to two inches per hour and strong winds will make travel conditions treacherous and possibly impossible in the northern Plains and upper Midwest, the service said in its forecast.
“Snowplow crews will be working across the state, but this storm could be a terrible one,” the Minnesota Department of Transportation said in a tweet.
While much of the U.S. remains stuck in cold, foggy weather, parts of the South could see the opposite, with warmer temperatures this week.
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Some areas are forecast to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the northern plains. Orlando could reach a record high of 90 degrees (32 C), while temperatures in Billings, Montana, could drop to -16 (-27 C), according to the NWS.
The slow-moving storm began over the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend, bringing heavy rain to parts of California and snow to the Sierra Nevada mountains. On Tuesday, it was centered over the northern Rockies and the High Plains, including Montana and the Dakotas.
Starting Wednesday, the storm will move into the upper Midwest, with “some of the biggest impacts in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” said forecaster Frank Pereira of the NWS Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
Wednesday into late Thursday, the storm will bring heavy snow and freezing rain to New England. New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine could get a foot or more of snow, Pereira said.
A lingering storm could dump snow across California. All of the state’s nearly 39 million residents will see snow or be able to see the tops of nearby mountains covered in snow this week, said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.
Strong winds knocked out power to 163,000 California homes and businesses on Tuesday, mostly in counties south of San Francisco, as peak winds reached 68 mph (109 kph) at San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, the weather service said.
Brace for blizzards
In California, the NWS issued blizzard warnings for the Los Angeles County mountains, the Ventura County mountains and the interior mountains of Santa Barbara County from early Friday through Saturday evening. The region remains under a winter storm warning until Friday and advises people not to travel.
Officials in Minneapolis told residents to prepare for blizzard-like conditions on Wednesday and Thursday, asking them to move their vehicles off the streets.
The city of 425,000 people could see up to 20 inches of snow, which would be too much for a February blizzard and one of the top five heaviest snowfalls of all time for a Midwestern city, according to the state. Department of Natural Resources.
Weather conditions quickly deteriorated in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota on Tuesday. Snow bands and strong winds have caused whiteout conditions in Great Falls, Montana, the NWS said.
Forecasters warned that wind chills from the storm could drop as low as -25 Fahrenheit, which could cause frostbite on exposed skin within 30 minutes.
The increasing frequency and intensity of such storms, interspersed with extreme heat and dry weather, are signs of climate change, experts say.
Traffic officials in Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas asked motorists to slow down or stay off the roads completely over the next two days.
More than 480 flights were delayed or canceled in and out of Denver, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, Utah. More than 1,300 flights in the United States were delayed or canceled as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Flightaware.com.
Although the snowstorm wreaks havoc on everyday life, it was welcomed by the skiers.
“Kaboom!,” Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming said in a tweet. “We are in the grip of a powerful storm and delays are likely due to strong winds and heavy snow. Thank you for your patience while we prepare Paradise for you.”
In Florida, locals prepared for a different kind of entertainment.
“Every year in February we usually get into the 80s, but if we start to get into that 85 to 90 range, it’s going to be above normal,” said Jason Hess, NWS meteorologist in Jacksonville. “It’s early beach season for us here.”
Brendan O’Brien reports in Chicago; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Urvi Dughar in Bangalore; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Christopher Cushing and Barbara Lewis
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