'Life-threatening' cold bites US Midwest

Updated: 2014-01-06 03:54


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'Life-threatening' cold bites US Midwest

Heather Miller uses a shovel to clear several inches of snow from her sidewalk in Detroit, Michigan January 2, 2014. The first major winter storm of 2014 bore down on the northeastern United States on Thursday with heavy snow, Arctic temperatures and strong winds just as many people were returning from holiday breaks. [Photo/Agencies]

MILWAUKEE - Residents of the Midwestern United States on Sunday braced for the coldest weather in two decades, temperatures that forecasters warned would be life-threatening.

Icy conditions snarled travel across the region and thousands of flights were canceled or delayed, some officials preemptively closed schools, and at a New York City airport a plane skidded off a runway into snow days after the Northeast was hammered by the first winter storm of the season.

"The coldest temperatures in almost two decades will spread into the northern and central US today behind an arctic cold front," the National Weather Service said in an advisory posted on its website on Sunday. "Combined with gusty winds, these temperatures will result in life-threatening wind chill values as low as 60 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit/ -51 Celsius)."

In weather that cold, frostbite can set in on uncovered skin in a matter of minutes, experts warned.

But fans of the NFL's Green Bay Packers vowed to brave the weather to see a playoff matchup that could stand as one of the coldest ever games in league history.

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, football fan Jacquie Tucker Braun, 44, was undaunted by a forecast for temperatures below 0 F (-18 C) when the Packers match up with the San Francisco 49ers at 3:40 CT (2140 GMT).

"It's going to be a challenge to stay warm, but we're up to it," said Braun, who plans to bring her 14-year-old son Gryphon to the game. She is bundling up for the game, wearing four layers on top and three layers on the bottom, along with a two pairs of socks and two pairs of gloves.

"We will see the game to the end unless there was some type of emergency," she said. "Being a Packers fan is in your blood, hereditary even."

Officials at the Packers' Lambeau Field promised fans two free hot cocoa or coffee drinks during the game, ESPN reported.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, forecasters warned Chicago and Indianapolis could see overnight lows of -12 F (-24 C), Minneapolis -29 F (-34 C) and Fargo, North Dakota, -31 F (-35 C). The coldest temperature reported in the lower 48 states on Sunday was -36 F (-38 C) in Crane Lake, Minnesota, according to the National Weather Service.

The northeast was forecast to see a brief thaw before intense cold returned late Monday.

About half of all flights arriving and departing Chicago O'Hare International Airport had been canceled on Sunday, according to FlightAware, which tracks flight statistics.

Nationwide, about 2,855 flights had been delayed nationwide by midday and 2,332 had been canceled.

In New York City, John F. Kennedy International Airport was closed for a couple of hours Sunday morning after a Bombardier jet skidded off a taxiway soon after landing. The Delta Connection flight had landed safely after arriving from Toronto with 35 passengers on board, and no injuries were reported, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which runs the airport, said.

Officials in several states asked residents to use extra precautions when outdoors.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has ordered all public schools in the state closed on Monday to protect children from dangerously cold weather.

Chicago schools will be open Monday despite the cold, but officials, in a statement, advised parents to "use their own discretion in deciding whether to send their child to school."

Between six inches and one foot (15-30 cm) of snow was predicted from Chicago to Detroit, AccuWeather said, while icy sleet and rain was forecast for much of the Northeast.