MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – A monstrous winter storm gripped the Upper Midwest Tuesday, threatening to bring blizzard conditions, freezing temperatures and 2 feet of snow in a three-day onslaught that could affect more than 40 million Americans .
The storm began around noon Tuesday and was expected to continue through Thursday morning in parts of Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, with wind gusts up to 50 mph and wind chills dropping to minus 50 degrees in some points.
In the Upper Peninsula, the National Weather Service forecasts possible snow accumulations of 7 to 12 inches Wednesday evening through Thursday evening. Higher amounts are possible in the higher ground in Marquette County.
In some other areas, the snowfall could be historic. They could pile up to 25 inches, with the heaviest amounts falling in east-central Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin, the NWS said.
The Minneapolis-St. The Paul area could see 2 feet of snow or more for the first time in more than 30 years.
Some families rushed to get their groceries before time closed. At a Costco in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, Molly Schirmer stocked up on heated-and-served dinners and Mexican Cokes, knowing she and her two teenagers might get stuck indoors.
“Schools are already gearing up to go online, so kids will probably be home doing online school,” Schirmer said of his 13- and 15-year-olds.
At another Costco in suburban Eagan, Larry and Sue Lick bought toilet paper, kitchen essentials, and coffee before the storm. They even rescheduled medical appointments and a family reunion, just to stay off the streets.
“It’s not so much our driving, but you have to worry about everyone else driving, with so many accidents caused by people who are new to winter driving,” said Larry Lick.
The weather service said the blizzard will effectively involve two shifts. For Minneapolis-St. Paul area, first flurry comes Wednesday afternoon with up to 7 inches of snow. Round 2 which begins later Wednesday and extends through Thursday is the real hit, “with another 10-20 inches expected.”
Weather Service meteorologist Frank Pereira said the system is expected to affect about 43 million Americans.
Meteorologists have warned of life-threatening conditions.
Temperatures could drop to minus 15 to minus 20 degrees Thursday and minus 25 degrees Friday in Grand Forks, North Dakota, meteorologist Nathan Rick said. Wind frosts of 50 degrees below zero were possible.
Wind gusts of 35 mph will be common in western and central Minnesota, with some even stronger gusts. This will result in “significant snowfall and drifting with whiteout conditions in open areas,” the weather service said.
According to the Weather Service, the largest snow event on record in the Twin Cities was 28.4 inches from October 31 to November 3, 1991, known as the Halloween Blizzard. The second largest was 21.1 inches of snow from November 29 to December 1, 1985. The Twin Cities had 20 inches of snow on January 22 and January 23, 1982.
Hours before the start of the snow, the storm was already kicking in. Minnesota state lawmakers have canceled all commission hearings scheduled for today and Thursday, as well as Thursday sessions. Since they don’t normally meet on Fridays, lawmakers won’t meet until Monday.
Hardware store owners said customers were generally taking the predictions in stride.
At C&S Supply, an employee-owned hardware store in Mankato, manager Corey Kapaun said demand is high for salt and grit, but not for shovels, snow blowers or other equipment. He attributed it to the fact that winter is two-thirds over.
Kapaun said he sold 130 to 140 snow blowers and about 1,000 shovels this winter when Mankato saw more than 3 feet of snow.
“I think people are either prepared or they’re not,” Kapaun said. “It’s usually the first snow of the year that gets a lot of attention. With a storm like this, I was expecting a little more, but we’ve already had a great snow year.”
In Sioux Falls, Dallas VandenBos has owned the Robson True Value hardware store for 48 years. His customers are used to the snow, but don’t necessarily trust the forecasts.
He recalled a storm in early January that was expected to drop 3 or 4 inches of snow. The total was much taller: 18 inches.
Snow sales aren’t up much, but VandenBos has a backlog of snow blowers to fix. Those who brought them in on Tuesday were unlucky: they won’t be ready for a week.
“They won’t catch them in time for this snow,” VandenBos said.
AccuWeather meteorologists said the same storm system could cause icing over a 1,300-mile swath from near Omaha, Nebraska, to New Hampshire today and Thursday, creating potential travel hazards in or near cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.
Portions of northern Illinois, southern Michigan and southern New York state could have up to a half-inch of ice, which could bring down power lines and cause outages, AccuWeather said.
In California, significant snow was possible in the foothills and mountains near Los Angeles, with several inches expected even for elevations up to 1,000 feet, the weather service said.
Nearly the entire population of the state “will be able to see snow from some angle by this week if they look in the right direction,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain wrote on Twitter.
Potentially damaging winds of 50 mph were expected along the central coast, and gusts of 70 mph were possible in the mountains.
As the northern US faces a winter blast, record heat was expected in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast later in the week, 30 to 40 degrees above normal in some places. The record highs were likely from Baltimore to New Orleans and much of Florida, Pereira said.
Washington, DC, could hit 80 degrees on Thursday, which would surpass the 78-degree record set in 1874.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. Steve Karnowski in St. Paul, Minnesota; Scott McFetridge in Des Moines, Iowa; Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Missouri; and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.