Much of US feels the sting of arctic air mass

Associated Press / December 16, 2008
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Temperatures crashed to record lows well below zero yesterday as a huge mass of arctic air blustered southward across the Midwest and West, keeping people indoors and leading some cities to open shelters.

The cold and remnants of the weekend blizzard that accompanied it closed hundreds of schools from the northern Plains into the Great Lakes states.

The St. Francis House shelter for the homeless in Sioux Falls, S.D., where yesterday's low was 11 below zero, was a lifesaver, said Richard Byrd.

"I would be probably huddled up right now under a bunch of blankets because this was my only alternative. If it wasn't for the St. Francis house, I'd be in a scary, scary situation," he said.

Major highways in northern and western Minnesota and wide areas of North and South Dakota had reopened after Sunday's blizzard dropped as much as 14 inches of snow, but hundreds of schools were closed in the three states.

Yesterday morning, lows in North Dakota included 25 below zero in Dickinson and Williston, and meteorologists said the wind made it feel like more than 40 below.

Minnesotans claim to be accustomed to such weather. "It's not so bad; I actually kind of like it," Rory Strange of Duluth said as ice crystals covered his eyebrows after he spent a couple of hours clearing snow off his sidewalk and helping neighbors.

But in Williston, N.D., where the wind chill hit 25 below early yesterday, Penny Groth acknowledged: "It's just darn cold right now."

Yesterday's cold was an abrupt change for many areas. Illinois was relatively warm Sunday, with temperatures in the 50s, but yesterday morning's lows were in the single digits across the northern part of the state. Rockford had a low of 3, and 20 mile-per-hour wind made it feel like 18 below zero, the National Weather Service said.

Hundreds of Illinois schools were closed because of ice-covered roads. More schools were closed in Michigan, where northern sections had blizzard conditions as wind gusting to more than 50 miles per hour caused whiteouts and generated wind chills as low as 30 below zero.

Thermometers read 31 below yesterday in Glasgow, Mont., and the wind chill was 45 below, the weather service said. The Texas Panhandle had lows in the single digits and Goodland, Kan., registered a record of 10 below zero.

Even western Washington state had freezing temperatures and Seattle opened severe weather shelters for the homeless.

Other record lows yesterday included 19 below zero in Denver, where the previous Dec. 15 record of minus 6 was set in 1951; and minus 16 at Sidney, Neb. Havre, Mont., registered a record 33 below Sunday, the weather service said.

The leading edge of the advancing cold air kicked off snow flurries as far south as central Arizona and the Texas Panhandle.

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