U.S. grain and livestock movement ground to a halt on Wednesday as one of the biggest storms to hit the U.S. heartland in a decade dumped up to 20 inches of snow in some spots and forced grain elevators and processors to close.
The closures stretched from far western Iowa to Ohio, snarling grain deliveries in the biggest corn- and soybean region of the United States, the world's top producer of corn and soybeans.
"The storm is winding down but it is by far having a huge impact on transportation," said Mike Palmerino, a forecaster with Telvent DTN weather service.
Those grain elevators that were open had a skeleton crew.
"I'm the only one here working from the office," said a dealer at an Iowa elevator along the Mississippi River. "Yeah, they can deliver if they can make it in, but why would they want to?"
The storm stretched across 30 states, leaving many Midwest roads snow covered or impassable, and Interstate 80 was closed from Morris to Princeton, Illinois.
Many grain merchandisers are unable to load barges amid the heavy snow and icing on rivers.
Both corn and soybean futures hit fresh 2-1/2 year highs overnight before easing as traders took profits. Wheat futures also hit highs in many contract months at exchanges in Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis, triggering farmer sales.
Basis bids — the amount above or below benchmark futures trade that dealers are willing to buy grains — climbed at some locations despite the sales and lofty futures prices.
"The storm is firming up the basis but I don't see much impact on futures. It's mainly a cash problem, nothing is moving so it's a logistics issue," said Paul Haugens, vice president for Newedge USA.
WHEAT CROP VULNERABLE TO WINTERKILL
Moderate to heavy snows of 8 to 15 inches fell across the central and northern Midwest, with some spots getting 20 inches. The southern half the United States missed the snow but was hit with freezing rain and ice.
The bulls eye of the storm hit Chicago where 17 inches of snow was reported on the ground as of Wednesday morning, said DTN Telvent's Palmerino. Local forecasters in Chicago report this is the fifth biggest snow storm in history at 17 inches, nearing the record snowfall of 23 inches that fell in January 1967.
But it is still snowing in Chicago and northern Illinois, which could receive another 3 inches before the storm ends.
Snowfalls of a foot or more was recorded for the eastern Plains hard red winter wheat country since the storm began late Monday. However, the western Plains from western Kansas, western Oklahoma and western Texas missed the heavy snow — a dusting to up to an inch of snow — which needed the protection from subzero temperatures, Palmerino said.
Morning lows in the western Plains wheat belt dipped to minus 5 to minus 15 Fahrenheit (minus 20 to minus 26 Celsius).
The western Plains wheat crop is vulnerable to winterkill as the snow cover is thin providing little to no protection from the frigid temperatures.
The arctic air will move into the Midwest starting Thursday when morning lows dip to 0 F.
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