MINNEAPOLIS – Despite the bitter cold gripping the Midwest, Mike Thamm of Duluth prepared to walk outside clad only in a swimsuit and dive into frigid water for charity.
"My courage is up — either that or I'm just crazy," the organizer of the Polar Bear Plunge said Saturday.
Temperatures in Minneapolis and St. Paul were expected to stay below freezing until sometime Tuesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Karen Trammel. The sub-freezing temperatures could linger even longer in northern Minnesota, she said. Harsh winter weather conditions brought whiteout conditions that were blamed for traffic pileups in Michigan and Ohio.
At Lutsen Mountains Ski and Snowboard Area north of Duluth, employee Kari Tarver said business was slow by early afternoon, when the temperature was minus 8 degrees.
"We've got a family weekend event going on, but the truth is who's going to want to take their little kids outside on a day like today?" she said. She said a few skiers and snowboarders braved the elements, though.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman intervened when officials moved to cancel Saturday night's Winter Carnival parade. But it was to be a smaller version, covering just three blocks in downtown St. Paul.
Blizzard warnings were in effect for parts of Michigan, and temperatures reached as low as 17 below zero in the Upper Peninsula. Winds gusting to 40 mph threatened to drive wind chill readings to as low as 30 degrees below zero, the National Weather Service said.
In Ohio, the winter blast was blamed for at least two deaths when whiteout conditions on a freeway caused accidents involving 21 vehicles. The two died when their car was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer, the State Highway Patrol said. Several people were injured.
In eastern Michigan, a pileup of 20 vehicles forced a highway to close for several hours in Genesee County. In the western portion of the state, 50 vehicles crashed on U.S. 131. No fatalities were reported, but police asked people to avoid driving if possible.
In Duluth, Thamm said in the seven years of the Polar Bear Plunge — a benefit for the Special Olympics — this was the first time participants were not jumping into Lake Superior. The event was moved to the back of a local pub when the wind chill factor neared the 30-below-zero mark.
"That way when you climb out of the water you can run right inside and warm up," he said.