Ice Spreads Across Southern U.S. as Arctic Cold Pushes In

A wave of arctic cold froze the U.S. Midwest as a wintry storm coated the South with ice and snow and contributed to almost 3,000 flight cancellations.

The storm was touched off by a new wave of polar air pushing deep into the eastern U.S., where it has kept temperatures below zero Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius) from Minneapolis to Chicago, triggered winter storm warnings and advisories from Texas to New Jersey and created subzero wind chills from North Dakota to western New York.

The snow and ice glazed highways and closed bridges from Texas to Virginia and snow may fall as far south as New Orleans, though it isn’t expected to accumulate there, said Danielle Manning, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Slidell, Louisiana. Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and schools in Baton Rouge and New Orleans closed.

“It’s a rare event, the last time New Orleans saw snow was 2008,” Manning said by telephone.

Across the U.S., 3,015 flights were canceled as of 2:43 p.m. New York time, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based tracking service. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, Houston’s Bush Intercontinental and Chicago’s O’Hare International were among the hardest-hit airports. Traffic into and out of New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International was halted through tomorrow, reported.

Schools Closed

In Houston, which has Texas’s largest school district, classes were canceled by the ice and sleet, while cold forced schools shut in Chicago and Minneapolis, according to system websites.

The wind in Chicago will make temperatures feel as cold as minus 40, the weather service said.

“This will result in frostbite and lead to hypothermia and death if precautions are not taken,” the agency said.

Across the U.S. Gulf Coast, as much as 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) snow, ice and sleet may fall, said Rob Carolan, owner of Hometown Forecast Services Inc. in Nashua, New Hampshire. From Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as much as 8 inches of snow may accumulate.

The storm is expected to stay south of the U.S. Northeast, where temperatures plummeted as the cold moved in.

As of noon, the reading at New York’s Central Park was 16 degrees and forecast to fall to 14 later, the weather service said. Tomorrow’s low may be 13. In Washington, the temperature at Reagan National Airport was 17 at noon and is expected to drop to 14 tonight.

Football Outlook

The cold along the East Coast will be short-lived and readings will begin to rise later this week, Carolan said. By the weekend, when the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks meet the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the biting cold should be a memory, he said.

Highs will be in the 60s and possibly the 70s across much of the South, Carolan said.

January is on track to be the coldest month of the 21st century in the contiguous U.S. in terms of natural gas-weighted heating-degree days. While temperatures may moderate as February starts, that month may also end up colder than normal, said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

Rogers predicts February will have a gas-weighted heating-degree days value of 850, the fourth-highest for the month since 2001. The value is calculated by subtracting the average temperature from a base of 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 Celsius) and giving more emphasis to those areas that burn natural gas.

February Cold

February 2007 was the highest, with a value of 904.8, Rogers said. The five-year average is 773.9 and last year it was 794.8.

The freeze sent front-month natural gas futures to the highest price in almost four years yesterday before they slid amid forecasts for a return of normal weather.

Natural gas for February delivery rose 15.7 cents, or 3.2 percent, to $5.005 per million British thermal units at 12:29 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange as the winter storm moved across the South.

Average or higher-than-usual temperatures are forecast to extend from Florida to Maine from Feb. 1 through Feb. 10 after the frigid weather this week, according to Commodity Weather Group.

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