Record-Breaking Winter Weather Grips Northern U.S.

Temperatures were in the single digits on Chicago’s lakefront on Wednesday night, as they were across much of the northern United States.

CHICAGO — Winter snowstorms and subzero temperatures are a teeth-chattering part of life in the Midwest and Northeast. But familiarity has offered little insulation this week as records fell, water pipes froze and snow piled up in a large swath of the United States.

The blast of frigid misery hit Boston and Bismarck, N.D., and most points in between, leading to record-tying temperatures in Detroit and historic snowfall in Erie, Pa., where more than 65 inches had piled up between Sunday evening and Wednesday afternoon.

Here in Chicago, as temperatures hung in the single digits and snow loomed in the forecast, sidewalk signs warned well-bundled pedestrians to beware of falling ice. And in Green Bay, Wis., where the local football stadium is known (lovingly) as the Frozen Tundra, downtown traffic was snarled Wednesday when a drawbridge became stuck in its lifted position.

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Over five feet of snow has fallen on the Pennsylvania city, a huge amount even for a place that’s no stranger to lake-effect snow.CreditCredit...Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News, via Associated Press

“They’re electrical and they’re hydraulic, neither of which react very well to cold,” said Steve Grenier, the city’s director of public works.

But in Green Bay and other cities used to harsh Decembers, the cold was greeted with matter-of-fact pragmatism. The bridge was lowered after about three hours, and a ship made it through the chilly waters unharmed.

“That’s winter in Wisconsin,” said Mr. Grenier, whose crews were also working to remove large snowbanks from downtown. “It’s nothing really out of the ordinary.”

Still, even ordinary cold can be dangerous. Across the northern half of the country, police departments responded to crashes on icy roads and local governments issued safety warnings. Four people were killed in an interstate crash on Tuesday near Abilene, Kan. The Highway Patrol said weather had played a role.

In St. Louis, where temperatures were expected to stay below freezing for at least a week, additional shelter beds were made available for the homeless. Mayor Joe Hogsett of Indianapolis warned of “extreme cold” in his city and offered tips on identifying frostbite and hypothermia. And in New York, a “Code Blue” was declared for the city’s homeless, guaranteeing them overnight shelter.

“We strongly encourage all New Yorkers to stay inside as much as possible during this week as the cold weather continues,” Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “Check on neighbors when you can and bring your pets inside.”

For North Dakota, Wednesday was something of a reprieve.

“Actually, today we’re up to positive six,” said Zack Hargrove, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck. “That’s nice. The last two days, we didn’t get above zero.”

The cold weather was not expected to relent soon. Mr. Hargrove said weekend highs in Bismarck could be around minus 12. In Boston, wind chills overnight Wednesday were expected to reach minus 10. And in Arlington Heights, Ill., the police said they had canceled a drunken-driving checkpoint scheduled for Friday “due to extreme cold.”

The bitter weather was not without redeeming qualities. City crews in Lawrence, Kan., were preparing an ice-skating rink in a park, a tradition that the local newspaper said had melted away in recent warm winters.

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