220 million freeze as Arctic blast chills US; Thousands in California ordered to flee as storm hits

More than 200 million people across the nation awoke to freezing temperatures Tuesday, including people in the Southeast, where search-and-rescue efforts continued after tornadoes killed at least 23 people in Alabama Sunday.

“The number of people being affected by this cold is amazing,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines. “It’s just about everywhere – essentially the entire country.”.

Yet another potent storm began to move into California on Tuesday, one that’s forecast to deliver heavy rain and snow throughout the state. In Santa Barbara County, about 3,000 residents were ordered to evacuate areas scarred by wildfires last year.

Referring to the cold blast, Kines said Arctic air masses that sweep down into the U.S. Usually stay east of the Rockies. This one sprawled west, too, reaching into the Pacific Northwest and into Texas and New Mexico, he said.

In places where it should be cold, it’s even colder than it should be, he said, continuing a trend from last month. Temperatures in some parts of Montana in February were nearly 30 degrees below average, AccuWeather reports.

In the first few days of March, temperatures have been even more extreme. The temperature hasn’t been above zero in Great Falls, Montana, since March 1, Kines said.

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“I know it’s Montana, but more than three days in a row below zero? That’s just amazing,” Kines said.

On Monday, dozens of record lows were set all the way from Washington state to Texas. Everyone shivered again Tuesday. Wind-chill values around zero degrees were reported through parts of the Midwest. It was 4 degrees in Denver on Tuesday morning, 10 degrees in Chicago, 11 degrees in St. Louis.

All balmy compared to the 22 degree-below-zero reading that greeted residents Tuesday morning in Butte, Montana.

In the Southeast, search teams scoured the splintered wreckage of dozens of homes in the rural Alabama town of Beauregard, sifting through debris in temperatures that dipped into the 20s, the National Weather Service in Birmingham reported.

“Another freeze is possible Wednesday night and Thursday morning with temperatures ranging from the middle 20s in the north (of Alabama) to the lower 30s in the south,” the Birmingham office warned.

Whiteout conditions contributed to a 60-plus-vehicle crash in Ohio on Tuesday afternoon, TV station WOIO reported. At least 13 people were injured in the pile-up on State Route 8.

In western Michigan, a 65-year-old died Tuesday morning after driving into a school bus that had stopped for an earlier crash in blowing snow.

In California, the storm will bring heavy rain to coastal and valley areas of the state and heavy snow over the state’s higher elevations through Thursday morning, the weather service said. The risk of mudslides is high in Santa Barbara County, where a debris flow through a burn scar in January 2018 destroyed or damaged hundreds of structures in Montecito and killed 21 people.

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The combination of snow and gusty winds in Northern California should once again make travel difficult on Interstate-80’s Donner Summit and other roads through the Sierra Nevada, AccuWeather warned.

Kines said the storm battering California will then sweep into the Midwest later in the week before reaching the South and Gulf Coast.

More dangerous storms could again blast the Southeast over the weekend. The weather service warned that severe thunderstorms with possible tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail will be possible across central Alabama late Saturday into Sunday.

“It’s going to be a strong system,” Kines said. “There is no doubt there will be severe weather, maybe all the way up to Missouri.”.

Kines added that his “gut feeling” was that the system won’t bring the devastation seen in Alabama on Sunday, but he added that residents across the region must be vigilant.

The good news is that a March roaring like a wintry lion might actually go out like a quiet lamb. The polar blast finishing up this week should be the last widespread outbreak of frigid air for the winter, said AccuWeather long-range meteorologist Paul Pastelok.

“After this week, with a few brief exceptions, Arctic air will be locked up in northern Canada,” Pastelok said. “There should be an increasing number of milder days as opposed to cold days for the middle and latter part of March in the central and eastern states.”.

Contributing: Kristin Lam, USA TODAY; the Associated Press.

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