The Big Icy: Deep freeze stretches down to Gulf Coast

Posted at 7:41 PM, Jan 27, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-27 21:41:13-05

By Matt Smith and Ralph Ellis


(CNN) — The Deep South will be plunged into a deep freeze again this week, this time with ice and snow expected to fall all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters issued a winter storm warning for New Orleans and its suburbs Monday afternoon, warning that the city could see half an inch of snow and ice by Tuesday evening. Parishes further north could see three inches, with temperatures plunging into the single digits on Wednesday, the National Weather Service reported.

A wave of arctic air that settled over the Midwest and the Plains is expected to spread into the Southeast late Monday, bringing a chance of snow to several major Southern cities by Tuesday. In New Orleans, where measurable snow has fallen only 17 times in records that date back to the 1880s, French Quarter restaurants made plans to shut down and tourists worried about being stranded at the city’s airport.

“This town is shutting down tomorrow,” cab driver August Delaney told CNN. “Some bridges are going to shut down. Schools are closed. We are not going to put our kids on school buses.”

Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency and warned residents to remember what happened when temperatures dipped toward the freezing mark less than a week ago.

“We had bridges that were frozen over, as you might remember,” Landrieu said. “We had accidents on those bridges, a fairly large pile-up on the Green Bridge. Sometime not long ago, when they had a similar event, there were a thousand crashes, and there were fatalities — and we want to make sure that we avoid all of that.”

While the Big Easy prepared for the Big Icy, authorities in neighboring Mississippi warned that the entire state would see temperatures below freezing between Tuesday morning and around lunchtime Thursday. State officials told reporters that up to four inches of snow could fall in the south-central part of the state, and the Gulf Coast could see three-quarters of an inch.

Robert Latham, the state’s emergency management director, warned residents to expect power outages as well.

“We’re looking at a part of the state that has a large number of pine trees,” Latham said. “I can tell you that as ice accumulates on pine trees, limbs will break. Trees will fall. Power will be out.”

The chill will be a marked contrast to the warm temperatures that prevailed across the region on Monday, when temperatures were largely in the 50s and 60s. In Wilmington, North Carolina, on the Atlantic coast, people were still dining outdoors on Monday night even as public schools announced closures on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Atlanta will see the mercury drop into the low 20s overnight, with a 30 to 40% chance of snow Tuesday. In Montgomery, Alabama, there’s a 40% chance of snow.

Further north, Washington probably won’t see snow, but its residents will feel the cold. Temps will drop to 7 degrees Monday night, with the wind chill telling you it’s colder — as in 8 degrees below zero. Tuesday will warm up only a little.

“Welcome to my world,” the Midwest and Great Plains will say.

Much of the northern Plains, Midwest and Northeast will likely shiver through daytime high temperatures 10 to 30 degrees below normal through Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

Chicago saw a high temperature of 4 below zero Fahrenheit on Monday and is looking at a comparatively balmy 3 above on Tuesday — though with wind chill values of around minus-30 degrees.

In Wisconsin, the state department of transportation urged people to avoid driving if possible. If they must drive, they should carry a fully charged cell phone, have at least half a tank of gasoline and tell somebody where they’re going.

In Milwaukee, two motorists seconded that advice.

“It’s going to be pure ice. It’s all fluffy and light snow like this and it’s going to melt down — going to be a mess,” Gary Lukowitz told CNN affiliate WITI.

“Even though you see the streets are plowed and it’s still slippery out there — still a lot of wet snow on the ground, still freezing and cars are still slipping around,” Adam Bernstein said.

And authorities in Minnesota are advising no travel in the southern and western parts of the state, where several roads are closed.

In South Dakota, officials said white-out conditions with zero to near zero visibility, icy roads and blowing and drifting snow are making safe travel almost impossible along the I-29 corridor and throughout most of the northeast and eastern part of the state.

They have closed Interstate 29 from the I-90 junction at Sioux Falls to Brookings because of blizzard conditions. I-29 was also closed from the South Dakota border to Canada in North Dakota.

Whiteout conditions could also be found in Hazleton, Iowa, said CNN iReporter Danny Murphy. He shot a video of the very white weather.

“Rural areas around here are suffering from near whiteout and blizzard conditions causing for very hazardous travel,” he said.

CNN’s Chad Myers, Sean Morris, Dave Hennen, Martin Savidge and Jareen Imam contributed to this report.

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