Polar Air Sweeps Into U.S. Bringing Snow and Ice

A wave of polar air is sweeping into the U.S. with snow and ice, sending energy use soaring and threatening to damage crops and disrupt natural gas production.

Temperatures will plummet as the cold moves south, east and west from Canada. Readings in Chicago will tumble from today’s high of 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 Celsius) to a low of 5 degrees next week, according to forecasts.

“It’s pretty impressive stuff; it’s going to set some records,” said Rob Carolan, owner of Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire. “A lot of the country is going to be feeling the effects of the cold weather by Monday.”

Below-normal temperatures, especially in eastern and Midwestern cities, tend to increase energy consumption as more people heat homes and businesses. Arctic temperatures can also crimp gas production by creating freeze offs, in which ice forming in and around wells can disrupt output.

As of today, there probably won’t be widespread disruptions in natural gas production, said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

“This is a very impressive air mass,” Rogers said in e-mail. “I’d lean against major damage at this time, but do agree the risk of some problems has increased this morning.”

Heavy snow is forecast from the Rocky Mountains to Lake Superior, where winter storm warnings and advisories have been issued through tomorrow, according to the National Weather Service. As much as 30 inches (76 centimeters) of snow may fall around Lake Superior and in parts of Idaho.

Snow Warnings

Warnings calling for as much as 9 inches have been posted for southern Manitoba, including Winnipeg, by Environment Canada.

As the cold sweeps south, it will probably touch off an ice storm later this week across north Texas into Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

“They may build up over a quarter inch of ice,” Walker said. It would be enough to bring down power lines and trees, he said by telephone.

Winter storm watches and warnings cover much of that region through the end of the week, according to the weather service. Oklahoma City may receive as much as 6 inches of snow while ice coats the southern part of the state.

There is a chance that a band of snow will stretch from Oklahoma to southern Ohio by the weekend, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.

Crops Threatened

Agricultural areas in California will also have to wrestle with the cold, Carolan said.

A hard freeze warning has been issued throughout the state’s Central Valley and into southern Nevada, according to the weather service. Temperatures will get cold enough to damage livestock and crops.

Tonight’s low is expected to be 25 degrees in Stockton, California, and 28 in Bakersfield, according to the weather service. San Francisco is forecast to fall to 39.

The cold will probably reach the U.S. East Coast by this weekend, and while it won’t be as intense as the frigid air that is gripping the Great Plains and Midwest, the sudden drop in temperatures may be startling, Walker said.

There will probably be at least a 20-degree drop in low temperatures in Manhattan this weekend from tomorrow, according to the weather service. By next week, lows in New York will be in the 20s, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“It will get people’s attention,” Walker said.

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