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Iowa voters face ‘dangerously cold’ conditions as caucus kicks off GOP race

Click to play video: 'Why Canada’s in a cold snap despite El Niño'
Why Canada’s in a cold snap despite El Niño
WATCH: Why Canada's in a cold snap despite El Niño – Jan 15, 2024

Brutally cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills stayed put across much of the U.S. Monday, promising the coldest temperatures ever for Iowa’s presidential nominating contest and cutting power and travel plans for tens of thousands of Americans.

About 150 million Americans were under a wind chill warning or advisory for dangerous cold and wind, said Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland, as an Arctic air mass spilled south and eastward across the U.S.

Temperatures in Iowa are expected to plummet to a life-threatening -35 degrees Fahrenheit (-37 Celsius) on Monday night, when voters assemble at public gatherings called caucuses to select a Republican presidential nominee.

Forecasters warned that “dangerously cold wind chills” as low as -45 degrees F (-42 C) were possible through noon Tuesday. The conditions, according to the National Weather Service, could lead to “frostbite and hypothermia in a matter of minutes if not properly dressed for the conditions.”

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Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, center, greets supporters during a campaign event at Drake Diner, in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). CK
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, greets supporters following a campaign event at Jerseys Pub and Grub in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette via AP).

The hazardous conditions prompted Republican candidates to cancel campaign events on Sunday as a blizzard blanketed the state, even while they urged supporters to brave the icy temperatures and turn out to vote.

Unlike a regular election, Iowa’s caucuses require voters to gather in person on Monday evening in small groups at churches, schools and community centers, where they cast secret ballots after speeches from campaign representatives.

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Monday’s extreme weather could keep some voters home, but it is unlikely to change the commanding lead that polls give former president Donald Trump over his chief rivals, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

A commanding victory for Trump in Iowa would bolster his argument that he is the only Republican candidate capable of taking on Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election.

Click to play video: 'Is Trump a lock for Republican nominee as 2024 primaries approach?'
Is Trump a lock for Republican nominee as 2024 primaries approach?

Buffalo Bills game impacted

The Buffalo Bills renewed their call for shovelers at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, on Monday morning to help dig out from more than a foot and a half (45 centimetres) of snow that fell through a blustery weekend that delivered the snow amid wind gusts of 60 mph (97 kph).

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Crews had the turf cleared under a sunny sky by midmorning while citizen shovelers who took them up on the offer to earn $20 an hour worked in frigid temperatures in the teens to clear seats for fans ahead of the 4:30 p.m. game — rescheduled from 1 p.m. Sunday.

A worker helps remove snow from Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday Jan. 14, 2024. A potentially dangerous snowstorm that hit the Buffalo region on Saturday led the NFL to push back the Bills wild-card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers from Sunday to Monday. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and the NFL cited public safety concerns for the postponement, with up to 2 feet of snow projected to fall on the region over a 24- plus hour period. (AP Photo/ Jeffrey T. Barnes). JTB

At first glance it was a daunting task, Bob Isaacs of Buffalo acknowledged a few hours after arriving at 7:30 a.m. But he considered his work his contribution to the team.

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“You got to remember you’re a Bills fan. It’s all part of the deal,” he said.

The game ultimately went ahead as scheduled Monday, with fans throwing the snow gathered around their seats as confetti to celebrate Buffalo’s game-opening touchdown.

Arctic chill cuts power, cancels flights

About 150,000 U.S. homes and businesses were without power Monday, the bulk of them in Oregon after widespread outages that started Saturday. Portland General Electric warned that strong winds forecast for Monday and threat of an ice storm Tuesday could delay restoration efforts.

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The storm was blamed for at least four weekend deaths around Portland, including two people who died of suspected hypothermia. Another man was killed after a tree fell on his house and a woman died in a fire that spread from an open-flame stove after a tree fell onto an RV.

In Utah, where almost four feet (1.2 meters) of snow fell in the mountains over a 24-hour period, a snowmobiler was struck and killed Sunday night by a semitrailer about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southeast of Salt Lake City, according to the Utah Highway Patrol. The person killed was among four snowmobilers attempting to cross U.S. Highway 40 in the Strawberry Reservoir area.

A man clears snow along a sidewalk on State Street in St. Joseph, Mich., Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. Residents are digging out after a winter storm moved across the state with blowing and drifting snow and temperatures in the single digits. (Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP).

In Wyoming, a backcountry skier was killed after triggering a 50-feet (15-meter) wide avalanche. The victim was swept into a gully and through brush and trees, then remained buried for about fifteen minutes before being found by a companion in the mountains south of Alpine, Wyoming, on Sunday afternoon, according to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.

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It marked the third U.S. avalanche fatality in recent days, following a Wednesday accident at a California ski resort that killed one person and injured three others, and another that killed a person on Thursday in the Idaho backcountry near the Montana border.

Swirling snow and avalanche dangers prompted road closures Monday across parts of Utah and Colorado. East of the resort community of Vail, Colorado, officials closed a 20-mile (32-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 70, the primary east-west highway through the state.

Monday also brought another day of delays for air travelers across the country. The flight tracking service FlightAware was reporting about 2,000 cancellations Monday within, into or out of the United States and thousands of delays.

Across the Deep South, freeze warnings were issued by the National Weather Service and covered large parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In Mississippi, forecasters warned of a “long duration freeze” and said that temperatures in some locations would remain below freezing until Thursday. The lowest temperatures Tuesday night will be in the single digits above zero in the northern part of the state, according to the weather service’s Jackson office.

Highs weren’t expected to rise above 15 or 20 degrees F (-9 to -6 C) across Oklahoma, Arkansas, northern Texas and western Tennessee, the weather service’s Taylor said.

A jogger trots on a snow-covered road during a winter storm, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024, in Grand Prairie, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez).

The winter storm was impacting travel across the central Appalachian region, with some areas of Middle Tennessee seeing as much as 8 inches of snow. Much of Kentucky and West Virginia were also blanketed, and the snow was expected to continue accumulating through early Tuesday. Meanwhile, wind chills in the Memphis area were predicted to reach as low as -5 degrees F (-21 C).

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With the potential for record low temperatures in the single digits or teens in Texas, the state’s electrical grid operator, ERCOT, was asking consumers to conserve energy. About 26,000 customers were without power Monday.

Light snow was expected through the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast through Monday and Tuesday, Taylor said, including 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7 centimetres) of snow forecasted for Washington, D.C. — what would be the most snowfall in a day in the nation’s capital in at least two years.

The Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s fourth-largest district, canceled Tuesday’s classes because of the cold weather.

—With additional files from Reuters

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