Cold Weather Blows From Dakotas to Florida

Forecaster: 'We do see patterns like this once a decade.'

ByNed Potter
January 06, 2010, 1:05 PM

Jan. 6, 2010 — -- B-b-boy, is it c-c-cold outside. It hasn't been this cold in parts of the Midwest in 15 years, and there's more of it coming.

Today the National Weather Service had winter weather warnings, watches or advisories out for 32 states, stretching from the Dakotas to Florida, and four of those states had blizzard watches.

"Three times in a month we've had blizzard or near-blizzard conditions," said Nancy Gaardiner, weather reporter for Nebraska's Omaha World-Herald, in an interview with ABC News. "So we're a little burned out."

At midday today it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit in Rapid City, S.D. It was 8 degrees in Minneapolis, 20 in Chicago and 24 in Nashville.

Those chilly temperatures made Florida -- it was 47 degrees today in the Tampa Bay area, for example -- seem relatively balmy, but orange growers in the state were getting ready for another night of below-freezing temperatures. The Florida Citrus Mutual group said it did not expect widespread damage to the nation's orange crop, but futures on commodity exchanges hit a two-year high anyhow.

What's going on? A mass of Arctic air has pushed south from Canada in the last week, and another is behind it.

"It's going to be a very cold air mass even for this time of year," said Brian Korty, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "Florida is really going to feel it."

In Canada's plains, Korty said there are temperatures of 30 below zero, and the high-pressure system carrying them south will not warm as much as usual as it crosses the U.S. border over the next couple of days.

"A good portion of the northern U.S. is covered in snow," he said, "so the ground isn't going to modify the cold air as it comes down on us.

"The sun isn't able to warm the ground because the snow is reflecting its warmth right back up."

Frozen northerners know what he was talking about. Ice on the streets simply isn't melting. Parts of Interstate 90 in North Dakota remained closed today, and local streets were glazed over.

"This is the worst in my eight years of carrying mail," said a postal worker in Minneapolis.

Demand for heating oil has been 21 percent above average in the last week, according to the American Petroleum Institute, and the price of crude oil on world markets rose for 10 straight days, passing $83 a barrel this afternoon.

Arctic Blast: Cold Weather From the Rockies East

New York City caught a break today -- the forecast high temperature was 35, though it is likely to drop to the mid-twenties on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Wichita, Kans., was warned morning temperatures on Friday and Saturday will be below zero. Temperatures haven't dropped to zero there since Dec. 8, 2005.

"We do see patterns like this once a decade," said Korty. "But I wouldn't consider this an extreme event yet."

A couple of college students from Ohio, Tara McCourry and Stephen McFarren, went on vacation in Pensacola Beach, Fla., and got more -- or less -- than they bargained for. They were hit with a 27-degree wind chill.

"This is my first time in Florida, and Florida is not supposed to be cold like this," McCourry said.

Additional reporting by ABC News' Barbara Pinto. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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