Temperatures plunged from 62 above to 10 below zero in less than a day when the record cold air from Alaska swept into the northern tier of the Western states today.
Wind chills to 50 below zero and blowing snow were reported in parts of Montana and North Dakota as a massive high-pressure system responsible for the 16-day Alaskan cold wave began to spill into the Northwest.
“We’re going to get pasted,” said Gary Addington, 35, of Portland, Ore., where rain was expected to turn to snow as the cold front moved down into the Pacific Northwest tonight.
After a record high of 62 Monday, the temperature in Great Falls, Mont., plunged to 10 below zero this morning and a winter storm watch was issued.
Wind chills plunged to 50 below in North Dakota and were expected to drop as low as 65 below zero tonight. Snow combined with winds gusting to 40 m.p.h. reduced visibilities to an eighth of a mile at Grand Forks, N.D., closing U.S. 2 between Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, Minn.
At least 24 schools across North Dakota were closed today as blowing snow cut visibility to near zero, officials said.
The arctic chill closed schools, froze water pipes and cut off villages in Alaska. As it descends southward, temperatures were expected to plunge in the next few days to 30 below in Rapid City, S.D., which set a record high of 72 Monday and where the spring-like weather had brought pesky box elder bugs out of dormancy and onto tree limbs.
Agronomists warned that the cold wave could destroy the winter wheat crop, which is already endangered because of the drought that was felt most keenly last summer and is still afflicting much of the nation’s Farm Belt.
The approaching cold front was producing wind gusts of nearly 60 m.p.h. at Cody, Wyo., and the high winds were expected to spread across the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.
Gusts up to 124 m.p.h. near Choteau, Mont., overnight overturned 10 empty cars of a freight train, and tracks were briefly blocked by a toppled grain elevator.
By Friday, the cold wave was expected to bring below-freezing temperatures as far east as Ohio, where temperatures up to the 60s--about 25 degrees above normal--have made it feel like early spring.