The Heat Is Online

Cold Snap Kills 23 in U.S.

Winter storm blamed for 23 deaths
, March 4. 2002

This winter's run of unusually mild weather in the Midwest froze in its tracks Monday with Chicago getting its first below-zero temperature, as record cold surged all the way to the Mexican border.

The icy air flowed southward in the wake of a weekend storm that spread ice and snow from the Rockies to the Plains and from Texas to Michigan. At least 23 deaths were blamed on the storm and one person was missing in Colorado.

Until this weekend, the coldest Chicago had gotten all winter was 5 above zero at O'Hare International Airport on Dec. 30, said National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Brumer.

On Monday, however, the low was 6 below zero, with 12 below elsewhere in Illinois at Romeoville and Aurora. Consider it a wake-up call, Brumer said. "Normally, we would get this kind of cold in January and February; it's very unusual to wait until March," Brumer said. "But we may have some more coming. This knocked our hopes we were going to get through this unscathed."

Farther south, temperatures hit record lows Monday in Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Louisiana, including 2 below zero at Springfield, Mo. Austin, Texas, had a record low of 17 and Houston posted a record 22, the National Weather Service said. On the Mexican border, thermometers registered a record 26 above zero at Del Rio, Texas.

However, the cold was already starting to retreat from the Northern Plains. While O'Hare had warmed only to 3 above by late morning, Bismarck, N.D., was already up to 25 above and readings in South Dakota had risen into the 30s, the weather service said.

The storm blew out of the Rockies on Friday, dropping 14 inches of snow at Eldorado Springs in Colorado. It whipped across northern Texas early Saturday with sleet, snow and freezing rain that contributed to more than 500 traffic accidents and about 100 canceled flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

At Chicago, O'Hare got 9.9 inches and Midway Airport got 10.9, and the city Aviation Department reported 153 flight cancellations between the two on Saturday.

In Texas, the storm was blamed for three traffic deaths and two deaths from hypothermia. By Sunday, the death toll also included nine in Oklahoma, five in Missouri, two in Wisconsin and one in Michigan.

In Colorado, one man died Friday in a snowmobiling accident during the storm and one man was missing after apparently being caught unprepared by the storm's arrival.