HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A wintry storm pushing through the western half of the country is bringing bitterly cold temperatures that prompted safety warnings for residents in the Rockies and threatened crops as far south as California.
The jet stream is much farther south than normal, allowing the cold air to push in from the Arctic and drop temperatures by 20 to 40 degrees below normal levels, AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines said Tuesday.
Areas of Montana and the Dakotas were forecast to reach lows in the minus-20s, while parts of California could see the thermometer drop to the 20s. The icy arctic blast was expected to be followed by another one later in the week, creating an extended period of cold weather that hasn't been seen since the late 1990s, meteorologists said.
Officials warned residents to protect themselves against frostbite if they are going to be outside for any length of time.
"When it gets this cold, you don't need 30, 40 mile-per-hour winds to get that wind chill down to dangerous levels. All it takes is a little breeze," Kines said.
The storm hit the northern Rockies on Monday and Tuesday, dumping up to 2 feet of snow in the mountains and in Yellowstone National Park.
Snow and ice created hazardous driving conditions throughout the West, and were a factor in a four-vehicle crash in central Montana that killed 21-year-old Chelsea Stanfield of Great Falls. Authorities said Stanfield was driving too fast for the conditions.
The weather also closed a stretch of Interstate 90 on Tuesday between Sheridan and Buffalo, Wyo. In eastern Oregon, authorities closed much of Interstate 84 as trucks jackknifed in the snow. Transportation authorities in Utah and Nevada reported dozens of crashes.
In the Dakotas, cattle ranchers who lost thousands of animals in an October blizzard were bracing for the latest wintry weather, with wind chills of 40 degrees below zero expected by week's end.
Cattle should be able to withstand the harsh conditions better than they did the Oct. 4 blizzard, said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.
"Cattle are a hardy species; they can endure a lot," she said. "With that October storm, they didn't have their winter hair coat yet. They've acquired some of that extra hair that will help insulate them better."
The cold was expected to keep pushing south and bring near-record low temperatures to parts of California. Citrus famers in the Central Valley checked wind machines and ran water through their fields in anticipation of temperatures at or below freezing Tuesday night, followed by even colder weather on Saturday.
However, farmers should not panic, said Bob Blakely of California Citrus Mutual, a trade association. Cold weather can be good for the crops, he said.
"Trees and fruits need some of that cold weather to harden off and prepare for late December and January," he said.
The system was pushing south, and Texans enjoying balmy 80-degree days should be seeing temperatures in the 40s by Thursday, Kines said.
The cold air is expected to linger until next week then move east, where it will bring less-drastic temperature changes, he said.
The storm system also could generate thunderstorms and tornadoes in parts of the South this weekend.
The National Weather Service says up to a foot of snow could start falling on northwest Kansas on Friday night, while Kansas City, Missouri, Indianapolis and Omaha, Nebraska could get up to 8 inches. Snow is expected to start in those cities late Saturday afternoon and continue through midday Sunday.
The system is expected to carry snow into the Northeast early next week.
In the South, forecasters say the system could spark tornadoes in Louisiana and Mississippi on Saturday.
Rain is expected to turn to snow Saturday afternoon across the state, posing a risk for travelers because of the rate of snowfall and lack of visibility. The storm is expected to continue until about noon Sunday in the western part of Missouri and taper off across the state throughout the day.
MoDOT spokesman Dan Niec says the storm will be just as challenging as two in late February that each dropped a foot of snow on the region.
He says the Transportation Department posts road conditions on its website, www.modot.org, which is updated continuously as conditions change.
Snowfall of 8 to 12 inches was forecast in central Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island by Friday morning, with 6 to 10 inches in Boston and nearby areas.
"We are watching a conveyor belt of wave after wave of snow coming in over the Atlantic," said Alan Dunham, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass. "The morning commute will definitely be a challenge," he said, especially for those headed into Boston from the south.
Powerful waves and high winds were expected to cause more trouble than snow.
In Scituate, Mass., a shoreline town about 30 miles south of Boston, emergency management officials were worried about getting through Friday's high tide.
"I think that's going to be very dangerous," said Scituate Police Chief Brian Stewart. He said the town had advised people in flood-prone areas to leave during high tides that began Thursday, when no major damage was reported.
"Why put yourself at risk?" he said. "Folks have been through this before, and they know what happens in these areas. We're recommending that people in areas that have experienced coastal flooding to evacuate three hours before high tide."
In Salisbury, Mass., on the New Hampshire border, officials ordered evacuations for homes along several beachfront streets flooded during a February blizzard.
A coastal flood warning was in effect for east-facing shores in Massachusetts, with possible 3-foot surges at high tide.
"The one we are watching is on Friday morning, after another 12 hours of strong northeasterly winds piling more water up," the National Weather Service's Dunham said.
On Cape Cod, where the storm was expected to be mostly rain, officials were concerned about beach erosion. The area suffered extensive erosion from Superstorm Sandy in October and a major snowstorm last month.
"We've really gotten more erosion in the last six months than we've experienced in the last decade," said Sandwich Town Manager George Dunham. "These three storms are really taking a toll."
Some less severe beach erosion was forecast along the southern Maine coast, and up to six inches of snow in southern Maine and New Hampshire.
In Connecticut, where up to 6 inches of snow was expected by Friday, people were hoping for a break after a snowy winter.
"I'm just wishing we'd be done with snow," said Steve Edwards, a contractor in Newtown. "We just finally saw some green grass."
The late-winter storm buried parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic before sweeping into New England.
In Virginia, three people were killed, including a 22 year old man who died after his vehicle ran off an icy road. Up to 20 inches of snow piled up in central and western Virginia, which had more than 200,000 outages at the height of the storm. The storm dumped 2 feet of snow in parts of neighboring West Virginia, closing schools in more than half the state and leaving more than 20,000 customers without power. Two North Carolina boaters were missing offshore after a third crew member was rescued Wednesday.
A snowstorm that moved through parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota yesterday is zeroing in on Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, with the brunt of the storm expected to hit early today.
Up to 10 inches of snow could fall in the Chicago area, which would easily make this storm the area's largest of the season.
This storm could be particularly problematic for commuters. The National Weather Service says it could snow during both the morning and evening rush hours in Chicago. Emergency officials urge those who don't have to drive to keep their cars in the garage in favor of public transportation.
The highest accumulations are expected anywhere from Kansas City, through Columbia, and up to Kirksville. Up to 13 inches of snow could fall in those areas. MoDOT says everyone should avoid travel unless it is an emergency. Crews need open roads to speed up the removal of snow during and after the storm. Mizzou has announced they will be closed Tuesday in anticipation of the storm.
St. Louis is expected to receive between 1" and 3" of snow.
That major winter storm is threatening to bring blizzard conditions to the north and central portion of Missouri--hitting Kansas City hard and in other parts of the central Plains today.
Kansas City leaders are telling people to move their cars off the street or they'll be towed. This snow plow driver says cars parked haphazardly have made it been difficult to clear the streets. "It's not that we haven't tried or haven't been there. Just a lot of times we get there and we can't get through."
Kansas City - which got a foot of snow last week - could get another 15 inches staring Monday afternoon Jesse Bustamonte was out with a shovel clearing a storm drain in front of his house Sunday. "I had to dig out a friend of mine. Every time he tried to move he was spinning his wheels because of the ice. So it was dig out and move, dig out and move."
The National Weather Service in Dodge City, Kan. says there could be "upward of a foot across south-central Kansas with lesser amounts across west-central and central Kansas." The storm also could bring tornadoes to the South.
From his acreage near Edwardsville, Campbell welcomed the snow. Like many farms, his soil in southwestern Illinois craves any moisture after a bone-dry growing season last year.
Climatologists say a foot of snow is roughly equal to an inch of water, depending on the snow's density. Campbell's region isn't getting quite that much, but the snow is important to growers of winter wheat. That crop goes dormant over winter before resuming growth in the spring, along the way using snow cover as a protective insulating blanket.
The latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor update shows more than half of the continental U.S. still in some form of drought.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency in response to a winter storm sweeping across the state.
Nixon said Thursday that the State Emergency Operations Center has been activated. The declaration also allows state agencies to coordinate directly with cities and counties to provide emergency services.
The governor issued the declaration from his office in the Capitol, where he was one of only a few people actually in the building. The House and Senate canceled their sessions Thursday, and most of their offices were closed.
A lone tour guide staffed a Capitol reception desk, but no one had braved the snow to visit the Capitol.
Fox 2 meteorologists Glenn Zimmerman and Angela Hutti have the following report on the storm:
The track of the storm changed overnight and there may be more snow than ice expected in the St. Louis area but there is still a chance of sleet and freezing rain. Two to three inches of accumulations will be the rule in metro St Louis, but if we experience more thunder-like weather, we could see more.
We will keep you up to date on storm's progress and road conditions through the day.