Historic snowfall expected as winter storm slams US Midwest

Cold temperatures, icy blizzards and strong gusts are expected to sweep through cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A “historic winter storm” is forecasted to dump record snowfall on parts of the midwestern United States this week, with local officials warning of “life-threatening travel conditions” in areas expected to receive blizzard conditions.

“A huge swath of the US is currently being, or will be impacted, by potentially dangerous winter weather,” the National Weather Service wrote on its Twitter page Tuesday, projecting heavy snow, sleet and gusts to last through Thursday. An estimated 40 million Americans could be affected by the three-day blast.

Snow could fall as quickly as 5cm (2 inches) per hour, the agency warned, as it anticipated “treacherous, potentially impossible travel conditions and possible power outages”. Southern Minnesota could receive up to 61cm (2 ft) of fresh powder, it added.

The storm is expected to break records in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metropolitan area, located on the state line between Minnesota and Wisconsin. The cluster of cities, which boasts a total of more than 3.5 million residents, could net up to 50.8cm (1.6 ft) of snow, one of its highest totals in history.

“Snowplow crews will be out working statewide, but this storm could be a doozy,” the Minnesota Department of Transportation tweeted on Tuesday. In anticipation of the extreme weather, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced the city was “planning to declare a snow emergency on Wednesday”.

Public school buildings in the city have been closed through Friday, with students attending class through online “e-learning” facilities.

The winter storm comes as an Arctic air mass moves south from Canada into the US, combining with two “energetic” fronts and pushing eastward across the Great Plains region towards the Great Lakes, the National Weather Service explained.

Cars navigate a snowy highway in downtown Minneapolis
Vehicles navigate a snowy downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 21 [Abbie Parr/AP Photo]

Winds could whip up to 128.7km per hour (80 mph) in some areas. And temperatures could plunge 20 to 30 degrees below average, with the wind chill making some areas feel like -32C (-25F).

The storm is expected to roll through the region in two waves: the first lasting through Wednesday morning and the second, “more impactful” portion arriving Wednesday afternoon and continuing through Thursday.

Already on Tuesday, conditions were worsening in Great Plains states like Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. The city of Great Falls, Montana, recorded temperatures of -15C (-5F), according to the National Weather Service.

Winter storms are growing in frequency and intensity, experts warn, as climate change supercharges extreme weather events, from droughts to heavy snow.

As the US Midwestest is pummelled by another onslaught of snow, other parts of the country are also experiencing unusual weather events. The National Weather Service in Jacksonville, Florida, along the southeast coast, tweeted on Tuesday that “near record warmth is forecast into early next week”.

And in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, part of the US west coast, back-to-back storms are expected to yield the possibility of light snowfall — something not seen in San Francisco since 1976.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies