PIERRE, S.D. — People in the Upper Midwest and Rockies woke up to frigid temperatures Tuesday, with heavy snow blanketing some areas. Other parts of the country are expecting a dose of the icy weather later this week from a powerful storm that hit Alaska with hurricane-force winds over the weekend.
A look at the storm system and its effects:
Cold front to strike New Mexico
A cold front is expected to strike New Mexico, dropping temperatures as much as 25 degrees below normal. The National Weather Service says the system will push over the east Tuesday and bring snow showers to the northeastern part of the state. Hard freeze conditions are expected over the state’s eastern plains.
Delta Airlines says snow in parts of the Midwest may affect travel from Albuquerque, including to and from Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Snow and tumbleweeds
More than 2 feet of snow blanked parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and more was on the way before the front was expected to exit Wednesday. Northern Wisconsin also got as much as 18 inches of snow, and parts of central Minnesota more than 16.
The weather wasn’t enough to persuade Joe Meath to flee Minnesota, even though he won nearly $12 million in a state lottery game two months ago. Meath was busy with his small snowplow business, taking care of his customers in his Chevy truck with nearly 300,000 miles on it.
“I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t doing this today,” Meath told KMSP-TV.
At Northern Michigan University, journalism student Mikenzie Frost said she was headed out the door to figure skating practice early Tuesday when she learned her school, like many others in the region, was closed. So, she shifted plans.
“Going to buy a shovel because we don’t have one,” Frost said. “We’re probably the only people in the U.P. [Upper Peninsula]that don’t have one.”
In Colorado, some residents were shoveling out from under tumbleweeds rather than snow. Winds of up to 60 mph caused tumbleweeds to pile up several feet high in and around Colorado Springs and Pueblo as the storm system moved into the region Monday.
The National Weather Service called for snow to taper Wednesday, except for more lake-effect snow mostly over Michigan.
Unseasonable cold was far more widespread, with the cold air in the Rockies and Midwest spilling into the Pacific Northwest. The chill was aiming for the Appalachians and mid-South by Wednesday morning and the East Coast by Thursday.
In Billings, Montana, where temperatures in the high 60s fell into the single digits, Patsy Kimmel said she’d been warned before arriving from Oklahoma to visit family and celebrate her 70th birthday.
“Yesterday I was wearing sandals and a short-sleeve shirt, and today I’m wearing a coat and scarf and turtleneck and sweatshirt and gloves,” said Kimmel.
In the Texas Panhandle temperatures plunged, from 70 degrees into the teens overnight. Oklahoma City went from a high of 80 degrees Monday to a low of 30 Tuesday morning.
In the Dakotas, wind chills made it feel like 20 below in some places. That was good news for Action Mechanical Inc. of Rapid City, South Dakota, which was doing a booming heating and ventilation business.
“Bang! We get this arctic blast, and it just opens the floodgates,” said John Hammond Jr., a department head. “We’re behind right now as we’re sitting here talking.”
In Denver, temperatures in the teens prompted officials to move a Veteran’s Day ceremony indoors.
Some of the cattle are ready
With only a few inches of snow, ranchers in the Dakotas were upbeat, mindful of intense storms in October 2013 that killed at least 43,000 cattle that hadn’t yet developed protective winter coats.
“We’ve had enough cool weather [this year] that they’re haired up like bears,” said South Dakota Stockgrowers Association President Bob Fortune, who ranches near Belvidere. “They can take winter now.”
But Wyoming rancher Ogden Driskill said conditions in his northeastern corner of the state turned cold so abruptly that cattle hadn’t yet developed that thick coat. He said the cold was more of a risk to calves who might sicken than to mature cattle.
Don’t blame the polar votex
Meteorologists are adamant the weather isn’t because of the polar vortex, a giant upper air pattern that normally pens in cold air in the Arctic in the winter. Instead, they say it’s pushed in by a different weather phenomenon more related to the remnants of a powerful typhoon.
“The polar vortex itself has not moved south. It’s still in the Arctic where it always is,” said National Weather Service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan.
Whatever the case, the cold is expected to linger. Some regions will go from record warm to record cold in just two days, with temperatures dropping 15 to 20 degrees below normal on the East Coast Friday and Saturday. Freezing temperatures will likely dip as far south as Atlanta on Friday, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the Weather Underground.