RAY SUAREZ: Now to the story of the winter storm that assaulted the Midwest today and pushed toward the Northeast. The huge system unleashed a potentially deadly mix of heavy ice, record snow and high winds.
Even as the snow had just begun to fall, forecasters and officials were warning people to prepare for the worst.
CRAIG FUGATE, Federal Emergency Management Agency: This is not something that is sneaking up on us. It’s been well-forecasted. We know it’s going to be bad. Prepare like it’s bad.
RAY SUAREZ: At least 33 states were affected. Winter weather alters extended from New Mexico to Maine, with blizzard warnings in seven states, plus predictions of subzero cold and winds of 60 miles an hour. Those in the Southwest got it first. Dangerous whiteout conditions hit highways in New Mexico. And a thick coating of ice covered downtown Dallas, making walking treacherous and driving more so.
The Super Bowl is set for Sunday at Cowboy Stadium in nearby Arlington, but officials warned fans to put off their travel plans by at least a day. Already, ice shut down Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for two hours on Tuesday morning. It’s a major hub for American Airlines.
Conditions also forced operations to halt for a time at Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers International Airport and others. All told, at least 6,000 flights were canceled nationwide. With heavy, blowing snow in much of the Midwest, leaders there tried to get ahead of the storm.
Oklahoma’s governor declared a state of emergency early on.
GOV. MARY FALLIN (R-Okla.): We have already pre-positioned emergency services around the state. We will work towards coordinating those. We have Guard on standby throughout the state. We have emergency centers that have been notified.
RAY SUAREZ: In Missouri, salt trucks worked into the night as heavy ice began to coat St. Louis. In Chicago, one to three inches of snow fell overnight, but officials predicted up to 20 inches more, making it a storm of historic proportions.
JOSE SANTIAGO, Chicago Office of Emergency Management Agency: In other words, there’s no reason to believe at this point that the storm will miss the city. Every Chicago resident should brace for a storm that will be remembered for a long time. This storm will tax the city’s resources and test the patience of Chicago residents used to dealing with inclement weather.
RAY SUAREZ: In all, Chicago could get one of the heaviest snows since the blizzard of 1967, when 23 inches crippled the Windy City.
Elsewhere, the first wave of the system brought freezing rain to Indianapolis, leaving half an inch of ice. Crews worked to clear streets and sidewalks before the second round brings snow tonight.
GOV. MITCH DANIELS (R-Ind.), Indiana: It may sound odd, but I think we would rather have a couple feet of snow than a lot of ice, with the damage it can do to utility lines, to cell towers, to basic services.
RAY SUAREZ: In the Northeast, already on track for record snowfall this winter, plows and salt trucks were out in full force, as snow began to fall northwest of New York City.
In Pennsylvania, residents made runs on hardware stores, in search of shovels and salt.
WOMAN: I’m getting rock salt because of the impending ice that I’m not looking forward to, just like everyone else.
RAY SUAREZ: And areas from the mid-Atlantic well into New England were expected to get mixes of ice, sleet and snow over the next 24 hours.
And for more on this storm and the night ahead, we turn to meteorologist Joe Bastardi of AccuWeather.com.
And Joe, we’re right in the dead center of winter. It’s — it’s going to snow. But is this storm, with its intensity, the length of the storm track, its energy, something unusual?
JOE BASTARDI, senior forecaster, AccuWeather: Well, what’s unusual about this storm is, it’s actually two storms. If you take a look at this radar chart I have here, you can see that. We will get my folks to switch in here.
One is already moving off New England. And the second is coming behind it. Now, there’s a big lull, six to eight hours, where the street crews and the highway departments can get out between New England and, let’s say, the upcoming snow later tonight and try to clean things up. We had that in Chicago. Boston already picked up six to eight inches from the first one.
You can see the other one exploding quickly northeastward. So, the two of them together coming within a 24-hour period are being blended together and called one storm. But really it’s two separate systems. In the end, it doesn’t make a difference because of the fact that you’re going to get a lot of snow with the second one and a lot of ice with the second one.
What is a blessing, though, is that we did have the break here to try to clean some things up before the second shot came in.
RAY SUAREZ: What’s going on in the upper atmosphere to create a weather event that, before it ends, may stretch 2,000 miles?
JOE BASTARDI: Well, we have seen storms that are bigger than this. Let’s remember the 1993 super storm dumped 20 inches of snow from Alabama into an expanding arc all over the eastern part of the United States.
We certainly have had some big storms this year in the Northeast, specifically from Philadelphia northeastward. Last year was almost Dallas to D.C. that got the worst of that particular winter.
But I think what happened over the past 10 or 20 years is, we were lulled into some kind of false sense of security that, oh, winters are not going to be that bad anymore. Well, the atmosphere is telling you and serving notice right now that things may be changing back to where we were in the ’60s and ’70s, and even before that time, when we saw big storms like this across the country.
RAY SUAREZ: And, quickly, Joe, where will we stand in the morning? Where — who is getting the worst of it right now?
JOE BASTARDI: Well, this is an I-90, rather than 95, storm. If we go back to the map again, let’s take a look. We have had a couple of storms that have started around Philadelphia and gone up to Boston.
This particular storm system, 55 up to Chicago, and then it takes I-90 up to Buffalo and down to Albany. That’s a pretty good area for the axis of heaviest snows, a lot of 12- to 18-inch amounts, a few 20-, 23-inch amounts. Chicago — the reason why Chicago, especially eastern suburbs, may do better than everybody else is because that wind comes in off the lake. It amplifies the snowfall.
That 1967 storm was a tremendous storm, of course. 1999, they got hit like this. So, in the history of Chicago snowstorms, this is probably a top-five.
RAY SUAREZ: Joe Bastardi of AccuWeather — thanks a lot, Joe.