By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Bitter cold and high winds surging down from the Arctic pushed wind chills to dangerous levels across the upper Midwest on Monday, forcing officials to close schools and warn drivers off roads, and slowing public transit and river traffic.
“We have a surge of Arctic high pressure out of Canada that has overspread the upper Midwest and central plains,” said Andrew Krein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s northern Illinois bureau.
The Chicago area has not experienced a winter this cold in 30 years, since 1983-1984, Krein said, adding that wind chills in Chicago overnight could approach minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius).
Chicago, Minneapolis and other parts of the Upper Midwest will have two consecutive days of subzero highs on Monday through Tuesday, according to forecasters. Highs will be held to the single digits and teens Tuesday and Wednesday across most of the Northeast, according to Accuweather.com.
Officials closed schools in Chicago, Cincinnati and the Cleveland area on Monday due to the biting cold, and most districts were closed across Minnesota.
The Illinois Department of Transportation warned drivers of “whiteout conditions” in the northern part of the state due to high winds, and Metra, a Chicago-area commuter rail service, warned riders of weather-related delays.
The frigid temperatures also are causing ice to accumulate on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, slowing the movement of grain barges to the U.S. Gulf, according to Drew Lerner, a meteorologist at World Weather Inc.
About 800 flights have been canceled within, into and out of the United States on Monday, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks flights.
U.S. Storm Prediction Center forecaster Corey Mead said the cold weather pattern that has caused such cold weather east of the Rockies could ease up in the eastern United States in the next week or two but continue in the Midwest.
“Chicago probably won’t get any relief,” Mead said.
Even the South is seeing extremes this week.
Wind gusts up to 35 mph knocked down power lines in the Dallas-Forth Worth area in Texas and temperatures were expected to fall into the 20s overnight, a shocking drop from highs in the 60s and 70s over the weekend, the weather service said.
Heavy snowfall is expected starting on Tuesday across eastern North Carolina, according to the weather service.
The weather service said coastal South Carolina will get rare ice accumulation with some snow and temperatures below freezing on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“It’s definitely not common for us,” said Emily Timke, a weather service forecaster, who said the coast last had ice accumulation in 2011.
In Alaska, the roughly 4,000 residents of Valdez remained cut off to road traffic from the rest of the state Monday after weekend avalanches blocked the road into and out of the coastal town, officials said.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago, David Bailey in Minneapolis, Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C., Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C., and Karen Brooks in Austin; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)