Arctic blast threatens to impact turnout at Iowa caucuses

As Republican candidates make their last pitches to supporters, Old Man Winter threatens to disrupt a year-long campaign as Iowans face historically cold temperatures to make their voices heard in the first contest of 2024.

The Iowa caucuses have been held since 1972, but in every election cycle, temperatures have reached at least 16 °F or greater.

The record is expected to be broken on Monday when highs around Des Moines and much of Iowa will struggle to get to zero degrees with wind chill values in the negative territory.

Forecast models indicate wind gusts of greater than 20 mph could make the mercury feel like it is closer to -20 °F, which is dangerous for anyone who is not well protected from the elements.


A snow covered field is seen during blizzard like conditions on January 13, 2024 in Crescent, Iowa. The second winter weather system in a week is bringing blizzard conditions across Iowa as voters prepare for the Republican Party of Iowa's presidenti

"When it’s that cold, and you’re also talking about things that happen at night, this is not a ‘go out the middle of the day type of thing.’ It’ll tend to turn some people off. And I think if you are a more casual participant, you might be turned off by the elements," said Dr. David Richards, an associate professor and political chair at the University of Lynchburg.


Richards has studied politics for decades and expects this round of the Iowa caucuses to be subdued compared to recent events because of the weather and the Democrats choosing not to have their presidential contest on the same day as Republicans.

"I just can’t help but think that -20 degrees is going to give some people pause. So, it’s going to be a dangerous situation. I think it’s very different than, ‘Oh, it’s raining, and I don’t want to get wet’," Richards stated.


Monday wind chill values(FOX Weather)

National Weather Services offices across the Hawkeye State have expressed similar concerns in their winter weather alerts.

"The dangerously cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes. Slow down and use caution if you must travel. Avoid outside activities if possible. When outside, make sure you wear appropriate clothing, a hat, and gloves," the NWS Wind Chill Warning alert stated.


A recent blizzard that dropped 10-15" of new powder also means there is plenty of snow on the ground to continue to make roads slick and reduce visibilities.

A typical morning low, on any given Jan. 15, is 13 °F in Des Moines, and a high can reach the lower 30s, so the forecast is chilly even for Iowa standards.


Des Moines Forecast(FOX Weather)

Even though a caucus process may last a few hours, Richards said the events are usually held in community centers, churches and even private homes, which should provide protection from the elements if voters do not encounter problems during travel.   

After Iowa, New Hampshire will host the next primary contest on Jan. 23 and much like the caucuses, voters in the Granite State will likely face their fair share of winter weather.

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