Over 1,000 flights in the U.S. were canceled Wednesday as states in the northern plains largely shut down ahead of a massive winter storm that could dump up to 2 feet of snow in some areas, accompanied by strong winds and dangerously cold temperatures.
As of 8 a.m., airports in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Denver, Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee were reporting the bulk of the canceled flights, according to tracking service FlightAware. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which flies frequently to those destinations, had called off 235 flights and delayed more than 360 others.
Blizzard-like conditions to the north are part of a wild weather day across the U.S. Wind gusts, combined with snow and rain, forced closure of a long stretch of interstate highway in the Southwest. Meanwhile, many places in the mid-Atlantic down to Florida are expected to see record high temperatures — in some cases up to 40 degrees above normal.
Many schools throughout the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin were called off for Wednesday, ahead of the storm. Offices closed, and so did the Minnesota Legislature. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem shut down state executive branch offices in several parts of the state, and employees were working remotely.
The storm will make its way toward the East Coast later in the week. Places that don’t get snow may get dangerous amounts of ice. Forecasters expect up to a half-inch of ice in some areas of southern Michigan, northern Illinois and some eastern states.
The snowfall could be historic, even in a region accustomed to heavy snow. As much as 25 inches may pile up, with the heaviest amounts falling across east-central Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin, the National Weather Service said. Wind gusts could reach 50 mph and wind chills are expected to hit minus 50 degrees in some parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area could see 2 feet of snow or more for the first time in over 30 years.
Some families scrambled Tuesday to get shopping done before the weather closed in. At a Costco in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Molly Schirmer stocked up on heat-and-serve dinners and Mexican Coca-Colas, knowing that she and her two teenagers might get stuck at home.
“The schools are already preparing to go online, so the kids will probably be home doing online school,” Schirmer said of her 13- and 15-year-olds.
Temperatures in the nation’s northern tier could plunge as low as minus 20 degrees Thursday to minus 25 degrees Friday in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wind chills may fall to minus 50 degrees, said Nathan Rick, a meteorologist in Grand Forks.
Wind gusts may reach 50 mph in western and central Minnesota, resulting in “significant blowing and drifting snow with whiteout conditions in open areas,” the weather service said.
According to the weather service, the biggest snow event on record in the Twin Cities was 28.4 inches from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3, 1991 — known as the Halloween Blizzard. The second-largest was 21.1 inches of snow from Nov. 29 through Dec. 1, 1985. The Twin Cities got 20 inches of snow on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23, 1982.
Forecasters at AccuWeather said the same storm system could result in icing across a 1,300-mile band from near Omaha, Nebraska, to New Hampshire on Wednesday and Thursday.
As the northern U.S. deals with a winter blast, record warmth is expected in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast — 30 degrees to 40 degrees above normal in some places. Record highs are expected from Baltimore to New Orleans and in much of Florida, National Weather Service Meteorologist Frank Pereira said.
Washington, D.C., could hit 80 degrees on Thursday, which would top the record of 78 degrees set in 1874.
A more than 200-mile stretch of Interstate 40 from central Arizona to the New Mexico line closed Wednesday morning due to wind gusts reaching up to 80 mph, plus snow and rain. Thousands were without power in Arizona.
California was also preparing for the latest in a series of winter storms as winds that began blowing Tuesday brought the potential for rain, snow and hail for much of the state. A “major snow event” was possible in foothills and mountains near Los Angeles, with several inches predicted even for elevations as low as 1,000 feet, the weather service said.