MADISON, Wis. – Homeless people scrambled to find shelter, schools closed down and plumbers wrestled with frozen pipes Tuesday as the Upper Midwest endured a third straight day of bitter cold temperatures.
Waves of frigid Arctic air began sweeping south from Canada on Saturday night, locking the Midwest in a deep freeze that has left a section of the country well-acquainted with winter’s pains reeling. Authorities suspect exposure has played a role in at least four deaths so far.
“I am wearing a Snuggie under a top and another jacket over that,” said Faye Whitbeck, president of the chamber of commerce in International Falls, Minn., a town near the Canadian border where the temperature was minus 30 on Tuesday morning. The so-called “Nation’s Icebox” reached a balmy 3 below for a high. “I pulled out a coat that went right to my ankles this morning and I wore two scarves.”
The coldest location in the lower 48 states Monday was Embarrass, Minn., at 36 below. On Sunday it was Babbitt, Minn., at 29 below, according to the National Weather Service.
Forecasters said late Tuesday that overnight temperatures wouldn’t get that low, but warned it was still frigid: Embarrass, Minn., was up to 15 below by late Tuesday night.
The bitter conditions were expected to persist into the weekend in the Midwest through the eastern half of the U.S., said Shawn DeVinny, a National Weather Service meteorologist in suburban Minneapolis.
Ariana Laffey, a 30-year-old homeless woman, kept warm with a blanket, three pairs of pants and six shirts as she sat on a milk crate begging near Chicago’s Willis Tower on Tuesday morning. She said she and her husband spent the night under a bridge, bundled up under a half-dozen blankets.
“We’re just trying to make enough to get a warm room to sleep in tonight,” Laffey said.
But in Sioux Falls, S.D., where winter temperatures are normally well below freezing, some homeless shelters had open beds. Shelter managers suspect people who needed a place to stay were already using the services before the temperatures reached more extreme lows. The first cold snap of the season was in early December. Overnight temperatures dropped to 9 below with the wind chill. In Vermillion, S.D., a water pipe break forced the evacuation of a dormitory at the University of South Dakota, with nearly 500 students offered hotel rooms.