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THE NATION

Midwest is icy as snow dusts South

That's not stopping Packers fans headed to today's contest. Wind chill is merely part of their personal game.

January 20, 2008|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — As temperatures plummeted into the single digits across the Midwest on Saturday, residents reached for their thermal underwear, worried about the possibility of frozen pipes and huddled indoors as an Arctic wind chill made it feel like 20 below zero.

In some spots, it felt even colder.

As winds and cold air blew in from the northwest, the National Weather Service reported that parts of Minnesota and North Dakota were hit with wind-chill temperatures as low as 35 below.

In Chicago, city officials have spent the last few days advising residents to spend as much of the weekend as possible indoors.

They pointed out that although the skies were clear and the sunshine bright, the outdoor weather would be cold enough that uncovered skin could become frostbitten in as little as 15 minutes.

Emergency teams also opened three warming centers for those who needed shelter.

While residents of the Windy City are accustomed to cold winters, this weekend's temperatures -- which fell about 30 degrees from Thursday to Saturday -- came as a shock to those who in recent years have grown to expect relatively warm Januaries.

"Last year [at] this time, our days were in the 30s. Normal highs here are around 28 degrees," said Bill Nelson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Chicago-area office in the southwest suburb of Romeoville. "Right now, the thermometer at my office is reading a balmy 3 degrees."

Kristine Lillian gasped for breath as she dashed into a Jewel-Osco grocery store in the city's northern Andersonville neighborhood late Saturday afternoon, eager for a chance to warm up.

She had spent the morning at a friend's house, helping prepare food for some under-the-weather neighbors. But then when she got into her battered 1987 Toyota Celica to drive home, the car simply wouldn't start -- and her friend doesn't drive.

"I thought I'd try to walk, but I got about six blocks and realized that was just stupid," said Lillian, 23, as she reached for her cellphone to call a taxi. "You can forget me waiting for the bus. Who wants to be outside on a day like this?"

But the frigid temperatures were perfect for some determined -- some would say foolhardy -- athletes. Saturday, scores of people ran in the Frozen 5K race at Spicer, Minn., while dozens took a plunge into northern Minnesota's Lake Bemidji, where the air was a teeth-chattering 15 degrees below zero.

Peter Vandt, a devoted Green Bay Packers fan, didn't care that the weather forecast for Sunday's home game in Wisconsin against the New York Giants promised to have football fans at Lambeau Field shivering at near-zero temperatures.

With the wind chill, meteorologists predicted that such readings could make it feel as if the weather had dipped to minus 20 degrees.

"If you're a Packers fan, you don't let a little thing like cold keep you from seeing the team," said Vandt, 54, a construction worker whose family has had Packers season tickets for two generations.

He and his 73-year-old father shrugged off the weather -- a mere 3 degrees -- when they watched the NFC championship game in 1997.

"You put on three pairs of socks, long underwear, ski pants, lined boots, four shirts, a couple sweaters, a good coat, gloves, a hat and a scarf," Vandt said. "What? That's not too bad."

In the South, winter storms spread snow, rain and sleet across Mississippi and Alabama, covering neighborhoods with light dustings of white and causing airlines to cancel hundreds of flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Enough snow fell in Montgomery, Ala., for children to make snowballs to toss in front of the state Capitol, although the snow melted on contact with the pavement.

Eleven-year-old Khryshanna Taylor saw snow for the first time Saturday. But after a brief snowball fight, she decided warmer winters are more to her taste.

"If it snows again, I'm going to move out of the state!" she declared, as she headed home.

p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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