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Canadian Storm System Brings Snow, Record Cold to Nation’s Midsection

December 19, 1985

Undated (AP) _ A storm system howled out of Canada and into the nation’s midsection Thursday, plunging temperatures to 31 degrees below zero and shutting down highways as it dumped up to 10 inches of snow in Wyoming.

Squalls from the Great Lakes brought a seventh day of snow to parts of New York state, piling up 44 inches in Watertown, while the Greater Buffalo Airport was closed as cleanup crews battled 3-foot drifts.

Thousands of homeless people in the frigid Northeast came in from the cold for a hot meal and a warm bed.

The ″Alberta Clipper″ storm, a rapidly moving low-pressure system named for the Canadian province, was trailed by a shot of cold air from the arctic that chilled the northern Plains on Thursday and dropped afternoon temperatures into the single digits over North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, said Paul Fike of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City, Mo.

At 6:30 a.m., the mercury plunged to 31 degrees below zero in the northeastern Minnesota town of Tower. ″They are warming nicely now with the current temperature at 14 below,″ the weather service said later in the day.

Records for the date set in chilly 1983 fell in Waterloo, Iowa, where 25 degrees below zero topped the minus 23 mark; in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where it was 19 below, topping the record by one degree; and in Moline, Ill., where the low of 18 below snapped the record by two degrees.

In Beckley, W.Va., the 1964 record of 1 degree was tied, and Baltimore matched its 1960 record low of 8 degrees.

Ten inches of snow and gusty winds closed roads in Sundance, Wyo.

″Just most everything was shut down, but other than that no wrecks or anything,″ said police dispatcher Sandy Sipe. ″You get kind of used to it in the wintertime like this.″

Blowing and drifting snow closed roads in western North Dakota, while up to 2 inches fell across Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

In Nebraska, snow and freezing rain in the Panhandle shut down a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 80 from Sidney to the Wyoming border and Nebraska 71 for 50 miles between Kimball and Scottsbluff, said Kimball County sheriff’s dispatcher Karen Robbins.

″We’ve had a couple of jackknifed semis up north and a couple along the interstate,″ she said. ″It’s blowing real bad. There’s drifting snow, and the interstate’s practically closed itself.″

Morning rush-hour traffic was snarled in downtown Omaha, Neb., where 30 minor accidents were reported.

In New York, snow squalls from a separate storm socked an area from Buffalo at the eastern end of Lake Erie 40 miles east to Batavia, in a week of storms that has buried upstate Watertown, on Lake Ontario, under 44 inches of snow.

More than 6 inches fell in Buffalo on Thursday, forcing the Greater Buffalo Aiport to close at 10:15 a.m., said General Manager Larry Hedrick.

″We’re shut down due to heavy snow and low visibility,″ Hendrick said, ″but primarily because it’s difficult to keep up with it.″

Airport snow removal equipment is showing signs of fatigue after seven days of near-constant use, he said. Crews on Thursday were fighting snow drifts up to 3 feet high.

Accumulation normally averages 26.1 inches through the first 18 days of December, said Don Weurch, meteorologist in charge of the Buffalo weather station.

The cold sent thousands of homeless people into shelters in Chicago, Boston and New York City.

New York City housed 8,555 people in its 20 shelters for single homeless people Wednesday night, the most since the Great Depression, said Susan Trazoff, a spokeswoman for the welfare department. The shelters offer beds, hot meals, showers and medical and social services.

The temperature bottomed out at 16 degrees in Central Park at 7 a.m. Shelters for transients were crammed to overflowing across Massachusetts as well.

″We were full here,″ said Cindy Cote at the Blackstone Shelter in Milford. ″I’ll tell you, they were anxious to get in″ when the 12-bed shelter opened early at 6 p.m.

Officials in several Tennessee cities reported house fires believed caused by overworked heaters or efforts to thaw pipes as temperatures dipped into the single digits. Two deaths were blamed on cold and icy pavement Wednesday.

In the Northwest, icy Interstate 5 near Grants Pass, Ore., turned into ″a big bumper car″ ride Thursday with a 12-vehicle pileup that killed two people, police said.

Update hourly