Winter storm with snow, ice, wind, bitter cold pummels Northern US


Snow blows and drifts over County Road K22 near Merrill, Iowa, on Jan 12, 2024. [AP Photo]

A massive winter storm swept the northern United States on Friday, with blinding snow in some places, freezing rain in others, and whipping winds and bitter cold temperatures across several states.

At least one death was suspected from the latest round of dangerous weather — a man was believed dead after an avalanche in the Idaho backcountry. Heavy snow and strong winds made driving virtually impossible in parts of Iowa, so much so that Republican presidential candidates called off campaign events. “Black ice” from freezing rain brought Kansas City, Missouri, to a standstill.

In Idaho, two men were rescued after being caught in the avalanche Thursday afternoon near the Montana border, but a third man was missing and presumed dead. The U.S. Air Force assisted in the search and rescue. Authorities weren’t sure what the men were doing in the area that had been under an avalanche danger warning for several days.

The Idaho avalanche came a day after the first U.S. avalanche death of the season was reported in California on Wednesday.

Republican candidates campaigning ahead of Monday’s Iowa caucuses were contending with a blizzard warning covering most of the state. Nikki Haley’s campaign canceled three Friday events and said it would be hosting “telephone town halls.” Ron DeSantis’ campaign postponed events in Marshalltown and Clear Lake.

The Iowa Department of Transportation’s road conditions map on Friday showed that virtually every major highway and interstate was partially or completely covered. The agency said driver visibility was “near zero” in some places, and wind-fueled drifts were quickly erasing the work of plow drivers.

The Iowa State Patrol posted photos of an icy wreck. “Please, don’t put yourself or others in danger,” the agency wrote. “The road conditions are extremely dangerous!”

Blizzard warnings were issued in some places, including southwestern Minnesota and the Green Bay area of Wisconsin. Forecasts for the Milwaukee area predicted heavy snow stretching into Saturday morning with wind gusts up to 64 kph (40 mph).

Snow not the only problem

In Kansas City, “black ice” caused dozens of wrecks as freezing rain created an icy sheen over the roads. Temperatures in the mid-teens combined with wind of more than 32 kph (20 mph) created a bitterly cold wind chill of around minus 23 degrees Celsius (minus 9 Fahrenheit).

The cold was the biggest concern in the Dakotas. It was minus 24 degrees C (minus 11 F) in Bismarck, North Dakota, on Friday morning, and forecasters warned the weekend will get even worse. It could reach minus 29 degrees C (minus 20 F) by early Sunday.

Temperatures were below zero Fahrenheit across the entire state of Montana Friday morning with wind chills as low as minus 49 C (minus 56 F) in places along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains and in the central part of the state.

Flight cancellations were common. In Chicago, more than 1,000 flights were canceled at the city’s two main airports Friday. Parts of Illinois could see up to 30.5 centimeters (12 inches) of snow through Saturday, the National Weather Service said.

Near-record cold in Kansas City will make for a frigid NFL playoff game Saturday night, when the Chiefs host Miami at Arrowhead Stadium. The temperature could be below zero by kickoff and get worse as the game goes on.

Another playoff game will face winter’s wrath on Sunday. Fans in Buffalo will contend with up to a foot of snow and fierce winds as the Bills host Pittsburgh.

Flooding in the Northeast

Other areas of the Northeast had flooding concerns. Emergency responders helped evacuate some residents from their homes in Paterson, New Jersey, early Friday as the Passaic River started overflowing its banks. The new storm, combined with one earlier in the week, created flooding worries in Maine and New Hampshire, too.

Volunteers and city leaders in several places were worried about the homeless.

Portland, Oregon, is more accustomed to winter rain, but snow was in the forecast. Tyrone McDougald wore a long-eared, leopard-style hat on Thursday as he sorted through racks of warm clothes at a homeless service center. He was already wearing multiple layers, but with no roof of his own, he grabbed two more coats to help him face a bitter cold snap arriving in the Northwest.

“I’m hoping that I can get in a shelter,” he said. “That would relieve a lot of the burden.”

In one hour Thursday, during the lunch service at Blanchet House, a homeless services nonprofit in Portland, about 165 warm clothing items were claimed — including the coats McDougald grabbed.

Julie Showers, the nonprofit’s spokesperson, said people were desperate for dry clothes and shoes after days of cold rain.

“We worry about frostbite, hypothermia,” she said. “There are a lot of people experiencing homelessness in Portland that are in mental health crisis ... and slowly become hypothermic laying on the street because they don’t understand how cold it’s getting.”

In the Chicago area, advocates worried for the growing population of migrants sent from the U.S.-Mexico border. Hundreds are staying in eight parked “warming buses” to avoid sleeping outside while they await space in city-run shelters.

Among them was Angelo Travieso, a Venezuelan bused from Texas. He wore a light jacket and sandals with socks.

“I slept sitting because there is almost no space left,” he said. “The buses are also small, and you practically have to stay inside because of the heating, because it is deadly cold outside.”