Christian couple can sue over Minnesota same-sex marriage video law

FILE PHOTO: A rose is seen on a giant rainbow flag at a pro same-sex marriage party after couples registered their marriages in Taipei, Taiwan May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Friday revived a lawsuit by a Minnesota couple challenging a state law requiring that their video production company film same-sex weddings, which they say violates their Christian beliefs.

In a 2-1 decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, said Angel and Carl Larsen can try to show that the law violates their rights to free speech and freely exercise their religious beliefs under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Circuit Judge David Stras, an appointee of President Donald Trump, called videos by the St Cloud, Minnesota couple “a medium for the communication of ideas about marriage,” and said the state’s law “is targeting speech itself.”

The court ordered U.S. District Judge John Tunheim in Minneapolis to decide whether the Larsens and their Telescope Media Group deserve a preliminary injunction against the law, which subjects violators to fines and possible jail time. Tunheim had dismissed the lawsuit in September 2017.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office defended the law, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Angel and I serve everyone,” Carl Larsen said, in a statement provided by his lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom. “We just can’t produce films promoting every message.”

The case is among several in recent years where private business owners or individuals invoked their religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.

In June, for example, the Washington Supreme Court ruled for a second time against a Christian florist for refusing to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding, setting up a potential clash at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in 2015 cited her religious beliefs in refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota in 2013, and nationwide in 2015.

The Larsens said they wanted to use their talents to honor God, including by producing wedding videos promoting marriage as a “sacrificial covenant between one man and one woman.”

Minnesota objected, saying the Larsens had to produce videos of same-sex weddings as well as opposite-sex weddings, or else produce none.

But in Friday’s decision, Stras said the Larsens could try to show that Minnesota law interfered with their message “by requiring them to say something they otherwise would not.”

He distinguished antidiscrimination laws targeting conduct and only incidentally affecting speech, calling it “unquestionably” acceptable to require an employer to remove a “White Applicants Only” sign.

Circuit Judge Jane Kelly dissented, saying the majority’s approach could support treating customers differently based on sex, race, religion and disability.

“Nothing stops a business owner from using today’s decision to justify new forms of discrimination tomorrow,” she wrote. “In this country’s long and difficult journey to combat all forms of discrimination, the court’s ruling represents a major step backward.”

The case is Telescope Media Group et al v Lucero, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-3352.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

Floods stall fertilizer shipments in latest blow to U.S. farmers

FILE PHOTO: The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Farm supplier CHS Inc has dozens of loaded barges trapped on the flood-swollen Mississippi River near St. Louis – about 500 miles from the company’s two Minnesota distribution hubs.

The barges can’t move – or get crucial nutrients to corn farmers for the spring planting season – because river locks on the main U.S. artery for grain and fertilizer have been shuttered for weeks. High water presents a hazard for boats, barges and lock equipment.

Railroads have also been plagued by delays from winter weather and flooding in the western Midwest, further disrupting agricultural supply chains in the nation’s breadbasket.

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in southwestern Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in southwestern Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

The transportation woes are the latest headache for a U.S. agricultural sector reeling from years of slumping profits and the U.S.-China trade war, and they threaten to cut the number of acres of corn and wheat that can be planted this year.

The shipping delays follow months of bad weather in the rural Midwest, including a “bomb cyclone” that flooded at least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of farmland last month and a record-breaking April snow storm.

“Our barges are a long way from where we need them in the upper Midwest,” said Gary Halvorson, senior vice president of agronomy at CHS. “We really don’t think that any rail line will be at their preferred service rate until summer.”

Agricultural retailers rely on barges and trains to resupply distribution warehouses across the farm belt. But river flooding has delayed the seasonal reopening of the northern reaches of the Mississippi River to barge traffic. The latest National Weather Service river forecasts suggest one of the river’s southernmost locks could remain closed until at least the first week of May.

FALLING PROFITS, PRODUCTION

Reduced or poorly timed fertilizer applications can hurt yields, potentially denting this year’s U.S. farm profits, which are already predicted to be about half of their 2013 peak, according to the latest U.S. government forecast. Delayed shipments can also mean lost sales for farm suppliers and higher demurrage penalties, or late-return charges, on stalled barges and rail cars.

CHS, one of the largest publicly traded U.S. agriculture suppliers, said this month cited poor weather as a key reason for a $8.9 million drop in agricultural profits during its fiscal second quarter.

Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co said severe weather and flooding would cut its first-quarter profit by $50 million to $60 million while DowDuPont said flooding would slash first-quarter profits in its agriculture division by 25 percent.

Fertilizer producers such as Nutrien Ltd, Mosaic Co and Yara International also lost sales due to bad weather in the fourth quarter of last year and first quarter of this year. Mosaic announced last month that it would cut U.S. phosphate fertilizer production by 300,000 tonnes for the spring season due to poor weather and large inventories left over from the fall.

Farm retailers such as CHS and privately held Growmark may see additional losses through the spring season as the tighter planting window limits the application services they provide, according to CoBank analyst Will Secor.

SCRAMBLING TO PROTECT CROP YIELDS

Farmers are not expected to skip nitrogen fertilizer applications entirely, which would cause yields to drop by about half, according to Purdue University agronomist Bob Nielsen. But higher nutrient costs could have growers applying less-than-optimal amounts.

Some farmers could shift from corn to soybeans, which can be planted later and require fewer fertilizer applications. But soybeans will continue to face uncertain demand as long as the U.S. and top buyer China remain locked in a trade war.

“Right now my plan is to plant more corn because the price of beans is so low,” said Don Batie, a farmer near Lexington, Nebraska.

The weather problems started last autumn, a period when some farmers treat fields after harvesting in preparation for the following spring. But wet weather prevented fall fertilizer applications, and an exceptionally snowy winter in many areas slowed or halted winter field work.

More recent storms have threatened to narrow the limited spring window for field treatments.

“When you add to it this re-supply constraint of not being able to move barges up the Mississippi, it puts us in a precarious position,” said Kreg Ruhl, manager for crop nutrients division at Growmark, the country’s third-largest agriculture retailer in terms of revenue.

PRICES RISING

Retail fertilizer prices have started rising in parts of the Midwest and are likely to rise further as local supplies are depleted and retailers scramble to resupply.

In Iowa, the top U.S. corn producing state, the price of the common fertilizer urea was up 20 percent in late April from a year ago, and anhydrous ammonia was up 27 percent. Both hit their highest early spring levels in three years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Without timely barge deliveries, CHS will lean on its rail network that brings imported supplies from Galveston, Texas, to any of the 29 rail hubs it owns in places like Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Marshall, Minnesota; and Minot, North Dakota.

Higher U.S. fertilizer prices and strong demand from other countries could help producers such as Nutrien, Mosaic and Yara recover some recent profit weakness in upcoming quarters.

For farmers and fertilizer retailers, however, uncertain fertilizer deliveries will likely weigh on agricultural markets through the planting season.

“We’re doing our very best to make sure that our retail network is supplied,” said CHS’s Halvorson.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago Editing by Brian Thevenot and Caroline Stauffer)

Some 156 people in 10 states infected with E. coli from ground beef: CDC

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A total of 156 people in 10 states have been infected with E. coli after eating tainted ground beef at home and in restaurants since the beginning of March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

No deaths have been reported but 20 people have been hospitalized after they were infected with the strain E. coli O103 since March 1, the CDC said on its website.

The agency said an investigation is ongoing to determine the source of the contaminated ground beef that was supplied to grocery stores and restaurants.

“At this time, no common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef has been identified,” the CDC said.

The investigation began on March 28, when officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified the CDC of the outbreak. Since then, some 65 cases have been reported in Kentucky, 41 in Tennessee and another 33 in Georgia.

E. coli cases have also been reported in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Virginia.

The CDC said that illnesses after March 26 may not have been reported yet because the lead time is two to three weeks.

People infected with the bacteria get sick two to eight days after swallowing the germ, and may sometimes develop a type of kidney failure.

Many of the infected people had bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and Sloppy Joes, the agency said.

The regulator said it is not recommending that consumers avoid eating ground beef at this time, but said that consumers and restaurants should handle ground beef safely and cook it thoroughly to avoid foodborne illnesses.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wis.; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Matthew Lewis)

Man accused of throwing boy at Minnesota mall first sought to kill an adult: prosecutors

FILE PHOTO: Emmanuel Deshawn Aranda, charged with attempted homicide of a 5-year-old boy thrown or pushed from a third-floor balcony at Minnesota's Mall of America, is seen in this combination photo from police released pictures in Bloomington, Minnesota, U.S., on April 12, 2019. Courtesy City of Bloomington Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – The man accused of seriously injuring a 5-year-old boy by throwing him from a balcony at Minnesota’s Mall of America last week told investigators he had initially intended to kill an adult, but it did not “work out,” prosecutors said on Monday.

Emmanuel Aranda, who police said has a history of mental issues and arrests on relatively minor charges, went to the mall last Thursday and left without following through on his plan, the Hennepin County Attorney’s office said.

Aranda told investigators he returned to the mall on Friday still intending to kill an adult, but picked the boy instead, and admitted throwing him from the building’s third tier, the attorney’s office said in a complaint.

“(Aranda) acknowledged repeatedly in his interview that he had planned and intended to kill someone at the mall that day and that he was aware that what he was doing was wrong,” prosecutors said in a complaint filed with Hennepin County District Court.

Aranda said years of coming to the mall to try talk to women only to be rejected “caused him to lash out and be aggressive,” according to the complaint.

Police have not identified the boy, but said he suffered life-threatening injuries after falling nearly 40 feet (12 meters) at the Bloomington mall, a major tourist attraction in the state. Prosecutors said he remained in critical condition on Monday.

MORE THAN $600,000 RAISED

In a GoFundMe post that raised $617,000 for the child’s medical expenses by Monday afternoon, a family friend identified as Noah Hanneman of Woodbury, Minnesota, said the boy’s first name is Landen.

Aranda, 24, of Minneapolis, will face attempted premeditated first-degree murder charges when he appears in court on Tuesday, and prosecutors will ask that bail be set at $2 million, the complaint said.

“We charged Mr. Aranda with the most severe crime that the evidence allowed,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement.

After throwing the boy from the balcony, Aranda fled the scene but was arrested elsewhere at the mall a short time later, Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts said on Friday.

Aranda had been arrested by Bloomington police three times in 2015, including once after he threw an object from the third level at the mall, Potts told reporters on Saturday.

Some of Aranda’s previous arrests were heard in mental health court, Potts added.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Blizzard clobbers Plains and Midwest after blanketing the U.S. Rockies

A bicyclist exits the Midtown Greenway bicycle and pedestrian trail during the spring snowstorm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Annabelle Marcovici

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A powerful blizzard slammed the U.S. Plains and Midwest on Thursday with heavy snow and fierce winds that caused power outages and closed highways while raising fears of more flooding in the Midwest after a deluge last month.

The system was dumping more than a foot (0.3 m) of heavy snow and winds were gusting up to 65 miles (105 km) per hour from northeast Colorado north to northern Wisconsin, the National Weather Service said in multiple advisories.

Whiteout conditions on roadways were making “travel extremely dangerous,” according to the weather service. Blizzard and winter storm warnings would remain in effect across the region through Friday morning, it said.

“Conditions will continue to deteriorate the rest of the afternoon and overnight,” said Dan Effertz, a NWS meteorologist in Minnesota. “This is a very potent storm.”

Local media reported dozens of crashes and cars in ditches as several major highways and roads were shut down in parts of the U.S. Plains and Midwest. Some counties issued “no travel” advisories, warning drivers to stay off the roads.

“Blizzard, day two. Not even the pack of sled dogs can handle these roads,” said Minnesota crime novelist Anthony Neil Smith on Twitter.

More than 30,000 homes and businesses were without power in Minnesota, 14,200 in Iowa and 22,700 in Michigan by midday on Thursday, according to PowerOutages.us, a website that tracks power outages.

The storm beginning on Wednesday has already dumped more than 2 feet of snow on parts of South Dakota and more than about a foot of snow in communities in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

The storm caused officials to close schools and governmental offices in dozens of communities.

In addition to snow, the storm was bombarding the region with rain, sleet, freezing rain and thunderstorms.

“You can probably even throw in the kitchen sink at this point,” the weather service said in a Tweet.

The blizzard, dubbed a “bomb cyclone” because of its rapidly intensifying funnel shape, is the second one to hit the region over the past month.

In March, another “bomb cyclone” triggered heavy rain over the region and combined with melting snow to cause flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries. Damages and losses to property, cattle and crops in Nebraska and Iowa alone were estimated at more than $3 billion.

Officials in Nebraska on Thursday were cautiously watching the forecast and river levels to the north, said Jodie Fawl, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

“We are waiting to see what happens when the snow melts,” she said, noting that warm temperatures since then have thawed the ground and could result in less flooding. “We are just going to have to wait and see.”

Despite the severe weather, crew members at Denver International Airport worked through the night to remove snow from runways, and only about 180 flights were canceled on Thursday morning, down from more than 700 a day earlier, according to FlightAware.come, a flight tracking service, and airport officials.

(Additional writing and reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Gina Cherelus in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bernadette Baum and Phil Berlowitz)

Blizzard moves towards Plains and Midwest after waning in the U.S. Rockies

A general view of the blizzard in Greeley, Colorado, U.S. March 13, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit TWITTER @PHOTOWILLG/via REUTERS

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A powerful storm bringing heavy snowfall and strong winds was churning across the U.S. Plains and Midwest on Thursday, a day after a blizzard in the Rocky Mountains grounded flights, caused power outages and raised fears of further Midwest flooding after a deluge last month.

Warm spring temperatures on Tuesday, upwards of 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver, gave way to frigid 20s, heavy snow, gale-force winds and life-threatening conditions through Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

David Roth, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Weather Prediction Center, said that while the Rockies were expected to receive constant precipitation until Saturday, the center of low pressure of the blizzard was spinning into the U.S. Plains and Midwest.

Roth said the storm system will turn northeast into Minnesota late on Thursday and then slowly move into Lake Superior by Friday night.

Heavy snow with blizzard conditions was expected through Thursday night in southeastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, the weather service said.

Despite the severe weather, crew members at Denver International Airport worked through the night to remove snow from runways, and only about 180 flights were canceled on Thursday morning, down from more than 700 a day earlier, according to FlightAware.come, a flight tracking service, and airport officials.

“Some cancellations and delays are expected today, so be sure to check your flight status with your airline!” airport officials wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Residents throughout the north-central United States could expect downed trees, widespread power outages, road closures and treacherous driving through Friday, the NWS said.

More than 10,000 homes and businesses were without power in South Dakota and about another 10,000 in Minnesota early Thursday.

Officials in Colorado ordered state government offices in 54 counties to be closed on Thursday, according to a statement posted on Facebook. Government offices in Denver were closed on Wednesday afternoon due to weather conditions, according to a statement on the state’s website.

Brian Hurley, another meteorologist with the weather service, had previously described the powerful blizzard as a “bomb cyclone,” the second one to hit the area in two months.

“This is like a slow-moving snowstorm inside a hurricane,” Hurley said, adding that wind gusts were upwards of 100 mph on Wednesday in eastern Colorado.

In March, another “bomb cyclone,” which involves a rapidly intensifying cyclone, triggered heavy rain over the region and combined with melting snow to cause flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries. Damages and losses to property, cattle and crops in Nebraska and Iowa alone were estimated at more than $3 billion .

This week’s weather system is expected to weaken and move to the Great Lakes area on Friday, bringing rain and snow to that region, the Weather Service said.

“All that snow is going to melt sooner rather than later, and it’ll all flow into the Missouri River basin,” Hurley said.

(Additional writing and reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Gina Cherelus in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Larry King and Bernadette Baum)

Millions in central U.S. brace for ‘life-threatening’ blizzards, potential floods

Floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A blizzard hitting the U.S. Rockies on Wednesday was forecast to move eastward over the next day, threatening to bring new flooding to the Plains states including parts of South Dakota and Missouri that are still recovering from last month’s inundation.

High spring temperatures will give way to heavy snow, gale-force winds and life-threatening conditions across a swathe of the central United States running from the Rockies to the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is potentially a life-threatening storm,” Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, said Wednesday.

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A cyclone last month dropped heavy rains over that region, causing extensive flooding along the Missouri River and more than $3 billion in damage to property and crops in Nebraska and Iowa.

Pueblo, Colorado, hit 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) on Tuesday, but will drop down to 25F (minus 4C) by early Thursday. Similar temperatures are forecast in Denver.

The storm is expected to bring blinding, heavy wet snow across the region, likely downing trees and causing widespread power outages, widespread road closures and making driving treacherous, Burke said.

“It’s slow moving. It won’t push farther east until Friday,” he said.

Some areas of western Minnesota and southeast South Dakota were expected to get up to 30 inches of wet, heavy snow, the NWS said.

Two factors may limit the flooding effect, forecasters said. Thawed ground will be able to absorb more precipitation than last month’s frozen ground and a fall of heavy snow rather than rain will slow the runoff process.

Nearly 500 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport on Wednesday, about a quarter of its total schedule, according to FlightAware.com, an airline tracking website.

Airport officials said they had snow-removal crews in place.

The coming storm was expected to exacerbate flooding along the Missouri River in areas where dozens of levees were breached in March, exposing communities to future surges. The river was not expected to crest in areas of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri until between three to five days after the storm.

The storm is expected to weaken and push off into the Great Lakes area and northern Michigan on Friday, bringing more rain and snow, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)

Blizzard threatens U.S. central plains with two feet of snow

A woman walks down the street during a blizzard in Long Beach, New York, U.S. January 4, 2018.

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – A late-winter storm this week could dump up to two feet (60 cm) of snow in the U.S. central Plains states, potentially snarling travel and bringing flooding to the Upper Midwest, U.S. forecasters said on Tuesday.

The storm, now brewing as low-pressure center in the southwest, will quickly move into the Rocky Mountains and deliver one to two feet of snow with blizzard conditions in much of Colorado and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota, the National Weather Service predicted.

The biggest air travel hub likely to be affected by the snow is Denver International Airport, but cross-continental air travel lanes could be disrupted as well as the system brings a line of rain squalls eastward, forecasters said.

“The snow will really start picking up by later tonight into the day on Wednesday,” meteorologist Mark Chenard said in a Tuesday phone interview from the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The storm will also bring heavy rain to areas of eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota that already have a good deal of snow on the ground, the NWS said.

“We could have the potential for major river flooding, given the rain and the snow melt,” Chenard said.

An earlier round of heavy, wet snow caused several roofs to collapse in the Upper Midwest last weekend, including those of a church and a hotel.

By Thursday, the storm system will weaken as it moves over the Tennessee River Valley, bringing mostly rain from Michigan southward to the Gulf Coast and some remaining snow only in the far northern parts of the country, he added.

 

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Schools shut, flights canceled as storm sweeps U.S. Midwest, East Coast

A local resident removes snow from a car during a winter storm in Washington, U.S., February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Reuters) – A winter storm swept across much of the U.S. Midwest and East Coast on Wednesday, hampering air travel and prompting officials to close federal offices in Washington and several large public school systems.

The National Weather Service warned the storm could make travel very difficult, with snow, sleet and freezing rain potentially causing downed branches and power outages.

The storm reached from northern Minnesota down through Missouri and east into the Mid-Atlantic region and could bring as much as 6 inches (15 cm) of snow along with sleet and freezing rain, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

The storm forced the closing of federal agencies in Washington as well as schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.

Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled in and out of major airports in Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago, according to Flightaware.com. Airports told passengers on social media to check their airlines for delays and cancellations.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Midwest U.S. in brutal grip of colder-than-Antarctica deep freeze

A pedestrian stops to take a photo by Chicago River, as bitter cold phenomenon called the polar vortex has descended on much of the central and eastern United States, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek

By Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Frozen Arctic winds brought record-low temperatures across much of the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday, unnerving residents accustomed to brutal winters and keeping them huddled indoors as offices closed and even mail carriers halted their rounds.

Classes were canceled Wednesday and Thursday in many cities, including Chicago, home of the nation’s third-largest school system, and police warned of the risk of accidents on icy highways.

Man blows snow during a winter storm in Buffalo, New York, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay Dedario

Man blows snow during a winter storm in Buffalo, New York, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay Dedario

In a rare move, the U.S. Postal Service appeared to temporarily set aside its credo that “neither snow nor rain … nor gloom of night” would stop its work: it halted deliveries from parts of the Dakotas through Ohio.

Temperatures in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes plunged to as low minus 42 Fahrenheit (minus 41 Celsius) in Park Rapids, Minnesota, and minus 31F in Fargo, North Dakota, according to the National Weather Service. The frigid winds were bound for the U.S. East Coast later on Wednesday into Thursday.

Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the service, said the some of the coldest wind chills were recorded in International Falls, Minnesota, at minus 55F (minus 48C). Even the South Pole in Antarctica was warmer, with an expected low of minus 24F (minus 31C) with wind chill.

The bitter cold was caused by a displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current was disrupted and was now pushing south.

An Illinois police department found a fictitious cause for the icy blast, posting on Facebook that its officers had arrested Elsa, the frosty character from the Disney movie “Frozen,” for bringing the arctic air to the Midwest.

Aftermath of an accident in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 29, 2019. JASON COFFELT/via REUTERS

Aftermath of an accident in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 29, 2019. JASON COFFELT/via REUTERS

The McLean Police Department shared a staged photo of officers putting a woman dressed in a blue princess gown in pink handcuffs and escorting her into a police car.

Officials opened warming centers across the region, and in Chicago, police stations were open to anyone seeking refuge from the cold. Five city buses were also deployed to serve as mobile warming centers for homeless people.

The Chicago Police Department said that at most, it could encourage people to get out of the cold.

“But we will never force someone,” police officer Michael Carroll said.

At least five deaths relating to cold weather have been reported since Saturday in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, local media reports said.

Hundreds of flights, more than half of those scheduled, were canceled on Wednesday out of Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway international airports, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.

Train service Amtrak said it would cancel all trains in and out of Chicago on Wednesday.

Most federal government offices in Washington D.C. opened three hours late on Wednesday due to the frigid weather already impacting the area.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales, additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Gina Cherelus and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)