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Midwest Weekly Highlights - January 1-10, 2014

Frigid Temperatures

The new year got off to a chilly start with an Arctic blast of frigid air dropping temperatures well below normal on the 6th to 7th of January (Figure 1). The coldest day across the Midwest was the 6th (Figure 2) with temperatures as much as 30°F below normal for a majority of the region. Temperatures remained below zero on the 6th across Minnesota and Wisconsin as well as parts of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Overnight lows the following night (Figure 3) dropped below zero for the entire Midwest except a small area including the Missouri Bootheel and extreme western Kentucky. The coldest temperatures during the week reached -45°F in Minnesota, -30°F in Wisconsin and Michigan, -20°F in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri, -15°F in Ohio, and -10°F in Kentucky. Daily record low temperatures were set by the hundreds across the region. Averaged for the first ten days January, temperatures ranged from 8°F to 20°F below normal (Figure 4).

Blizzard Conditions

The first storm system swept eastward across the region, dropping more than a foot of snow in some locations (Figure 5). The system snarled traffic all the way to the east coast of the US. On the heels of the cold front that moved across the Midwest on the 5th/6th, heavy snowfall (Figure 6) along with blowing and drifting conditions led to blizzard warnings in some locations and winter storm warnings over a broad swath of the Midwest. Snowfall amounts ranged to more than a foot in some parts of Indiana and Michigan and more than 6 inches for a wide swath including most of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, northwest Ohio, and southern Michigan. Daily snowfall records were plentiful. Precipitation (Figure 7) and snowfall (Figure 8) for the ten-day period both showed maximum values along the storm paths that tracked from Missouri to Lake Erie. In Missouri and southern Illinois the precipitation was slightly below normal but because it all fell as snow, snowfall totals far exceeded normal. Outside the band of the heaviest precipitation, totals quickly dropped off to less than 75% of normal in Kentucky and southeast Ohio and less than 75% of normal for most of Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin including some areas in the latter two states where no precipitation fell.

Severe Travel Impacts

Travel in the Midwest was severely impacted by the cold and snowy conditions. Train traffic was halted by severe drifting including three Amtrak trains that were stranded in northern Illinois. Over 500 passengers had to shelter in place overnight waiting for alternate transportation. Numerous roads, including major interstates, were in Illinois and Indiana. Several counties in those two states closed all roads in their borders to all but emergency vehicles. The closures were done because snow removal could not keep up with worsening conditions amidst crashed and abandoned vehicles, both in ditches and in roadways, and the dangerously cold conditions that could kill before rescues could be made. Roads were reopened over the next couple days as they were cleared and temperatures moderated. Airline travel was also severely impacted with thousands of flights cancelled and/or delayed.

Many Deaths Attributed to Weather

Deaths were reported in seven states from the two major systems that moved across the Midwest during the period. Causes of death included traffic accidents, heart attacks during snow removal, and exposure. Deaths were reported in Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan.