The new year was ushered in on a bitterly cold note across much of the country Friday, as the coldest temperatures of the season and strong winds sent wind chill readings plummeting to a dangerous 40 degrees below zero in the upper Midwest.
The National Weather Service warned that such wind chill readings could freeze uncovered flesh in minutes.
"These temperatures are considered well into the danger zone for being exposed," said Paul Merzlock, a meteorologist in Chicago, where the wind chill index dropped to 33 degrees below zero. "The heat loss would be such that exposed areas will freeze in a few minutes at most."
First Subzero Readings
Many Midwestern cities reported their first subzero readings of the season, with temperatures dropping below zero over much of the upper Mississippi Valley and the northern half of the Plains. Strong gusty winds drove wind chills throughout the region down between 30 below to near 45 below.
A record low of 31 below was set at Alamosa, Colo., breaking the old mark for the date of 28 below, set in 1975.
Harrold, S.D., about 30 miles east of Pierre, recorded an overnight low of 25 below. It was 18 below at Hibbing, Minn., and 19 below at Butte, Mont.
Milwaukee reported a low of 2 degrees below zero with wind chills around 40 below. At Rockford, Ill., a low temperature of 5 degrees below also was made to feel like 40 below with strong wind gusts.
Warmth for Homeless
The arctic weather prompted Chicago officials to open 12 emergency warming centers for the homeless on New Year's Eve, providing beds for 745 people, as well as coffee and food. The city's 38 regular shelters, which can accommodate 2,000, also were open.
A city Human Services spokesman said many of the warming centers were filled to capacity before midnight.
Snow by mid-morning was scattered from western Montana across eastern Idaho, Michigan, northern Indiana, northern Ohio, along the lower Great Lakes, eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia. As much as six inches of new snow was forecast for the lower Great Lakes region.
Rain extended over the southern half of the Appalachians.