For millions of Americans across much of the country, the holiday week begins with unrelenting sub-zero temperatures, made even more miserable by heavy snow expected Tuesday and Wednesday in several central and northwestern states.
More than 30 million people are being warned about wind chill across much of the central and northwestern U.S., including in places hit by blizzards from a separate storm system last week. Parts of Alabama and Tennessee are also under a wind chill as the “wind chill” is expected to drop below zero.
On Tuesday, the sprawling weather system will bring dangerously cold temperatures and snow to Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and most of Minnesota, where high temperatures will remain subzero, according to forecasters from the National Weather Service.
The air feels so cold that frostbite on exposed skin can occur in less than 10 minutes in most affected areas, and less than five minutes in some isolated locations, forecasters warn.
“In addition to the brutally cold temperatures, dangerous wind chill readings of 35 to 55 degrees below zero are possible through the end of the week in these areas,” the Weather Prediction Center said Monday.
There are windchill advisories for Sioux, South Dakota and Fargo, North Dakota, Tuesday, as the dangers of freezing begin to sink in. Windchill, which indicates how the wind feels, will be as low as 40 degrees below zero.
“Starting tonight, the worst of the Arctic air mass will reach our area, bringing dangerous temperatures and chills. Slippery roads will continue with additional snow accumulation expected Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning weather service office in Glasgow, Montana, said Monday night.
The snowfall has already started in Seattle, which is being warned of a winter storm on Tuesday. The storm moves east into parts of Idaho Tuesday morning and spreads across northern and central Montana later in the afternoon.
As the storm moves east this week, holiday travel is becoming difficult, if not dangerous, in many places, with forecasters urging people to be prepared to make changes.
In Minnesota, the Twin Cities weather service implored residents to be careful about the “potentially dangerous week of weather,” with the worst impact in the Midwest starting Wednesday.
“The bottom line is that travel will be very dangerous and could be LIFE THREATENING later this week, so be prepared to change travel plans now!” the local weather bureau said.
Many local governments in affected areas have opened warming centers in an effort to provide relief to those in need.
Overall, most of the US is expected to experience abnormally cold temperatures this week. In fact, more than 80% of the country, excluding Hawaii and Alaska, is predicted to see temperatures below freezing.
In Montana, Helena and Missoula will receive winter storm warnings beginning Tuesday and Billings will have a wind chill through Friday afternoon.
The storm is also expected to intensify as it approaches the Midwest, where the greatest impacts are predicted. The snow starts in the region on Wednesday and lasts much of the Christmas weekend.
Several inches of fluffy snow are expected in parts of central Minnesota on Wednesday, followed by strong winds, which could create blizzard conditions. A blizzard is defined as winds of at least 35 mph along with falling or drifting snow that reduces visibility to a quarter mile or less, for at least three hours.
“By Thursday gusts of 40-50 mph seem likely. With the fluffy snow in place, blizzards are very likely throughout the area, even in areas not typically favored for whiteout conditions,” the weather service said.
Chicago is expected to be one of the hardest hit cities, with a winter storm watch in effect from Thursday evening through Friday evening. With snow storms likely, holiday travel could come to a halt for many looking to celebrate with family and loved ones.
“Conditions rapidly deteriorating by late Thursday afternoon, with dangerous snow storms increasingly likely from Thursday night into Friday,” said the weather service office in Chicago, home to one of the nation’s busiest airports and long-distance train depots.
Meanwhile, even southern cities unaccustomed to wintry conditions will get a brittle taste of it this holiday season, with Austin, Houston, Atlanta and even Orlando at risk of seeing below-freezing temperatures midweek.
In Texas, the National Weather Service made it a point to reassure residents that this week’s unusually cold temperatures won’t hit the state as badly as last year’s brutal winter storms, when millions of people lost power during a week-long extreme weather event in February 2021 .
However, water pipes are in danger of bursting, according to the weather service. A wind chill watch is in effect for Amarillo, Texas, Wednesday evening through Friday afternoon.
“Outdoor plumbing is at risk from temperatures well below freezing and windy conditions late this week,” says the weather service in Fort Worth said. “Make sure to cover pipes and drip faucets!”