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'Life-threatening' cold hits much of U.S. in major winter storm. Here's what to know

Linda Rae uses a snowblower to clear her driveway during a  snowstorm on Friday in Des Moines, Iowa.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
Linda Rae uses a snowblower to clear her driveway during a snowstorm on Friday in Des Moines, Iowa.

Updated January 13, 2024 at 12:45 PM ET

Record-low temperatures and "life-threatening" levels of cold are happening across the U.S. through this weekend in the first significant Arctic outbreak of the winter, the National Weather Service says.

There have been weather advisories, watches, or warnings in every single state, as the severe weather impacts of the winter storm are forecast to stretch to much of the country.

According to forecasters, wind chills are projected to push temperatures to below negative 40 degrees in parts of the northern Plains and northern Rockies this weekend.

Heavy snow and blizzard conditions are expected in the Midwest and Great Lakes through Saturday, while heavy rain and coastal flooding will continue to hit the Southeast and East Coast, meteorologists say. Severe thunderstorms, strong winds, and a few tornadoes are possible in some regions.

"We call it 'life-threatening' for a reason. Temperatures of this magnitude will cause harm if caught outdoors unprepared," the NWS office in St. Louis warned. "Take it seriously. This kind of cold does not happen very often, especially in this extended length — it's rare."

Flooding from this past week along parts of the South and the Northeast left thousands without power. There were several fatalities as well.

The extreme conditions of the Arctic storm have already hit the Midwest — over 1,000 flights were canceled out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway International Airports as of Friday.

The National Weather Service in Chicago said bitterly cold temperatures and wind chills are expected Saturday night through Tuesday night. As snow will fall at rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour, the NWS asked people to consider postponing travel.

Chicago may see some of its coldest days in five years.

In Iowa, voters are supposed to participate in the presidential caucuses Monday, but the storm may impact turnout. The Iowa Department of Transportation warned travelers to stay off roads, as the snow may reduce visibility to whiteout conditions.

Some GOP candidates, including Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, canceled some of their in-person events in Iowa, citing unsafe weather.

The National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa, issued a guide to cold weather safety tips. It urges people to limit their time exposed to extreme cold, as frostbite is possible in as little as 10 minutes.

In the South, from Mississippi to the Carolinas, there are already ongoing severe thunderstorms capable of creating damaging winds and tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service. Wind levels can reach an estimated 75 mph.

"The climate is changing, and our emergency plans need to change too so that we can prepare," said Billy Callis, a spokesman for Austin's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. As the strong cold front intensifies, cities like Austin are creating guides and emergency kit checklists to prepare, as there is an increased risk for frostbite and hypothermia.

The NWS says minimum wind chills are set to fall below zero into Texas and the interior Southeast at the peak of the storm.

The NFL playoffs also start this weekend and temperatures in Kansas City — where the Chiefs will host the Miami Dolphins — are expected to reach the single digits.

And in Buffalo, the Bills game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was pushed back from Sunday to Monday due to "the ongoing weather emergency," the Bills said in a statement on Saturday. The team said the decision to postpone the game was made in consultation with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in the interest of public safety. The NWS had forecast"heavy lake effect snow bands with gusty winds" in Buffalo and nearby areas on Saturday and Sunday.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Diba Mohtasham
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