The fifth blizzard of the season socked North Dakota with fierce wind and blinding snow on Wednesday, while snow and ice storms in the Midwest shut down highways and sent thousands of students home early.
Icy conditions in Arkansas led to four deaths, including an 80-year-old man who fell while getting the newspaper and three killed in car accidents, and persuaded Ku Klux Klan members to postpone a rally this weekend.
“I can’t even get out of my driveway,” national Klan director Thomas Robb said from his home in Harrison, Ark. The group had been granted a permit to march in Salina, Kan., on Saturday in protest of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
In the northern Plains, a rush of Arctic air was expected to drop overnight temperatures well below zero in some spots. More bitter cold and snow were expected to hit Wisconsin and Michigan by Thursday.
With blizzard conditions hitting Minnesota late Wednesday, Gov. Arne Carlson ordered all public schools closed on Thursday.
“With the wind chill factor approaching 70 below across most of the state, we simply cannot allow our children to be outside waiting for the bus or take the chance of getting stranded on the way to school,” he said.
Wind gusts of 51 mph and driving snow swept across North Dakota on Wednesday, shutting major highways where motorists had virtually no visibility.
“It’s almost like being in a hailstorm. The wind is picking up bits of gravel and throwing them up on the sides of the roads and pelting the car,” Patrolman Keith Ogdon said in the northeastern part of the state.
The highway patrol was busy with car crashes, one involving three trucks and a car that blocked a highway for much of the afternoon.
“They just can’t see where they’re going, and they run into each other,” said Highway Patrol Capt. Don Glarum.
Schools were closed in Fargo, Grand Forks and Wahpeton even before the storm hit. Wind chills were expected to range from 50 to 80 below zero Wednesday night and temperatures should hover around zero on Thursday.
Blizzard conditions - with winds up to 50 mph and zero visibility - blew into Minnesota Wednesday, closing highways and schools. Several more inches of snow were expected Thursday. Wisconsin was expecting up to 4 inches of snow with temperatures to 15 below.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula also braced for a blizzard, with up to a foot of snow and temperatures of 50 below forecast for Thursday. The rest of the state, meanwhile, could get 6 inches of snow. Illinois was also expecting extreme cold, more freezing rain and strong wind.
A thick layer of ice covered southern and central Missouri and southern Illinois, closing thousands of schools and businesses.
In St. Louis, a quarter inch of “black ice” slowed traffic to a crawl. Public buses were running late and delays and cancellations were common at Lambert Airport.
Driving was also tough in Illinois, which got up to 4 inches of snow in the north and freezing rain in the south.
“I’m just letting my nerves catch up with me. My nerves are shot,” truck driver Larry Ammerman, said during a cigarette break at the Dixie Truckers’ Home in central Illinois.
Waitress Mary Lou McCarthy was surprised at how many drivers ventured back into the storm.
“They have their coffee and some hot soup and away they go again. You just tell them to be careful and you hope.”
In Iowa, visibility was at near zero and many state and county roads were closed as the second blizzard of the season blew in with 60 mph winds and wind chills as low as 70 below.
“It’s situation normal in Iowa - we can’t see a thing,” said Ed Hoheg, a truck driver from Minneapolis who was waiting the storm out at Dudley’s Corner at an interchange west of Hampton.