Frigid weather hits Midwest, -52 wind chill in ND

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DES MOINES (AP) — Snow was piled so high in Iowa that drivers couldn’t see across intersections and a North Dakota snowblower repair shop was overwhelmed with business as residents braced Thursday for heavy snow and wind chills as low as 52 below zero.

Frigid weather also was gripping the South, where a rare cold snap was expected to bring snow and ice Thursday to states from South Carolina to Louisiana. Forecasters said wind chills could drop to near zero at night in some areas.

Dangerously cold wind chill levels hit the Midwest early Thursday including 52 below zero in northern North Dakota, negative 40 in parts of South Dakota and minus 27 in northeast Nebraska, according to the National Weather Service. Equally disturbing chills were expected overnight Friday.

“Temperatures are going to be nose-diving,” said Billy Williams, a weather service meteorologist in Sioux Falls, S.D. “Winds are slowing dropping off but will be more than compensated for.”

Another 10 inches of snow was expected in Iowa, already buried by more than 2 feet of snow in December, while up to 9 inches could fall in southeast North Dakota that forecasters warned would create hazardous zero-visibility driving conditions. Wind gusts of 30 miles per hour were expected in Illinois — along with a foot of snow — while large drifts were anticipated in Nebraska and Iowa.

Joe Dietrich said he had to turn away dozens of customers this week from his snowblower repair shop in Bismarck, N.D.

“My building is only so big and I can only take so many,” Dietrich said.

The weather hasn’t let up since sweeping into the eastern U.S. earlier this week. Five straight days of double-digit subzero low temperatures, including negative 19, were recorded by the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minn., a Twin Cities suburb.

“It’s brutally cold, definitely brutal,” meteorologist Tony Zaleski said.

Several recent deaths have been blamed on the cold. An 88-year-old woman died of hypothermia in her unheated Chicago home, an Alzheimer’s sufferer died after wandering into his yard in Nashville, Tenn., and a homeless man was found dead in a tent in South Carolina, authorities said. Kansas City police said a man involved in a multi-car pileup Wednesday died after jumping a barrier wall in the dark, apparently to avoid sliding cars, and falling about 80 feet.

In preparation for worsening conditions, United Airlines canceled 130 flights out of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Thursday — about 30 percent of its schedule. Some evening flights were canceled in Atlanta as forecasters warned of up to 3 inches of snow in northern Georgia. Frost on the planes’ wings delayed seven early flights in Tampa, Fla.

Just one day into the 2010 legislative session, the Missouri Senate canceled its Thursday session because of weather. The House planned only a technical session, which allows bills to be processed without the attention of most lawmakers.

Freeze warnings covered nearly all of Florida with temperatures expected to drop into the 20s. Freezing iguanas were seen falling out of trees in Florida; experts say the cold-blooded reptiles become immobilized when the temperature falls into the 40s and they lose their grip on the tree.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency in Perry County on Wednesday after water line breaks left areas without water.

Schools in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Oklahoma were among those expected to cancel classes because of weather, while major roads in South Dakota, North Carolina and Virginia were closed.

Salt had no effect on the Twin Cities’ ice-rutted streets, and the deep snow left over from a Christmas storm has hardened into rock-hard blocks. The conditions helped business at Roger’s Master Collision, an auto-body repair shop in Plymouth, Minn.

“A lot of people sliding on the ice, then hitting the snowbanks. They’re frozen up pretty hard,” said store manager Kirk Suchomel, estimating the shop is averaging 15 repair estimates a day. “I’m sure we’re going to stay busy.”

In Iowa, officials in Des Moines warned that a $3 million annual snow removal budget would likely be exhausted with this week’s storm. Another 10 inches of snow was forecast overnight — on top of the more than 28 inches of snow that fell there in December.

Public Works Director Bill Stowe said the city would tap a $6 million road maintenance fund to cover snow clearing for the rest of the season. Snow that had been plowed into tall piles at intersections was set to be dumped into a lake.

“It can be a half-million dollar operation, depending on the amount of snow,” Stowe said.


Associated Press writers Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis; James MacPherson in Bismarck, N.D; Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Neb.; and Erin Gartner in Chicago contributed to this report.