A massive winter storm hit the U.S. Friday with freezing temperatures, high winds and snow, killing several people, knocking out power to more than a million customers and disrupting vacation plans from coast to coast.
The storm — which is expected to intensify throughout Friday as it sweeps across the Midwest and East — left poor road conditions, low visibility and icy streets. Coastal flooding is also a problem, especially along the northeast coastline.
All modes of travel — planes, trains and cars — have been disrupted: Hundreds of miles of roads have been closed and flight cancellations are on the rise. In New York, flooding along the Long Island Rail Road forced the temporary closure of parts of the Long Beach Spur.
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“Christmas is cancelled,” said Buffalo, N.Y., resident Mick Saunders, who spent two hours in blizzard conditions expected to last into Sunday morning. “All the family and friends thought it was safer that way.”
Several deaths have been reported. In north-central Kansas, three people were killed in separate crashes Wednesday night; one death was confirmed to be weather-related and the other two were believed to be weather-related, according to Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. More investigation. Candace Brayhills.
In Kentucky, three people were killed by the storm, including two in car accidents and one who was “housing insecure” in Governor Louisville. Andy Beshear said. Police said the man’s body was found outside with no obvious signs of trauma and an autopsy will determine the cause of death.
In Ohio, at least one death was reported in which “weather was believed to be a factor” after about 50 vehicles were involved in multiple crashes on Interstate 80, according to Sgt. Ohio Highway Patrol spokesman Ryan E. Purpura. Several people were reported injured.
The life-threatening cold spread all the way to the Gulf Coast and the Mexican border, with sub-zero wind chills reported as far south as Austin and Atlanta. Many parts of the eastern United States are set for their coldest Christmas Eve in decades as arctic storms peak.
According to the PowerOutage.US website, about 1.3 million customers in the U.S. experienced power outages amid winter weather and frigid temperatures. On top of that, Maine, North Carolina, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania had the most power outages.
In pictures: Winter storms affecting the US
Altogether, more than 200 million people in the U.S. are under wind chill warnings from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, from Washington state to Florida, with sub-zero wind chill forecast for the Southeast by Friday. Additional winter weather alerts apply to blizzards, ice, snow, and flooding.
“The National Weather Service’s watch warning chart depicts one of the widest ranges of winter weather warnings and advisories on record,” the agency said Thursday.
Notably, parts of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming have seen wind chills below minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit over the past two days.
Temperatures across Texas were below freezing by early Friday afternoon, according to weather observations across Texas.
New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul warned residents of “epic, statewide danger” for winter weather.
“I call it a kitchen sink storm because it threw everything at us except the kitchen sink,” Hochul said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “We had ice, floods, snow, freezing this weekend. Temperature and everything Mother Nature can throw at us.”
For Brian Trzeciak, the storm “lived up to warnings” at his home in Hamburg, New York. The Buffalo airport, just to the north, reported zero visibility shortly after noon Friday.
“The snowy conditions, the cold temperatures and the waves are like what you see in a hurricane,” he told CNN.
He and his family decided to cancel their Christmas plans due to the danger posed by the storm.
“My mother lives about 30 minutes away, and my sister and her family are in the other direction,” he said. “We always get together on Christmas Eve and Christmas, but we’re all holed up at home until Monday when everything stops.”
Driving bans were imposed in Erie, Genesee, Niagara and Orleans counties in western New York state because of the snow.
Many will experience a colder holiday season like no other: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tallahassee, Florida, will all experience their coldest high temperatures on record on Dec. 24, according to the National Weather Service.
Washington, D.C. is expected to have its second coldest Christmas Eve, behind only 1989. In New York, it will be the coldest Christmas Eve since 1906. Chicago is forecast to see temperatures rise back above zero, but will still experience its coldest Christmas Eve since 1983.
Much of Florida will experience the peak of the cold over Christmas. For Miami, Tampa, Orlando and West Palm Beach, it will be the coldest Christmas since 1983.
The storm brought more snow and blizzards Friday, especially in the Midwest.
As it moves east across the country, the storm is expected to become a “bomb cyclone,” a rapidly intensifying storm that reduced pressure by 24 millibars in 24 hours. The storm is forecast to have the same pressure as a Category 2 hurricane that entered the Great Lakes Friday morning.
Governors of at least 13 states, including Georgia and North Carolina in the south, have implemented emergency measures to deal with the storm. Several states have declared states of emergency, including the activation of the National Guard.
More than 5,000 flights had been canceled on Friday as of 4:20 p.m. ET, after nearly 2,700 cancellations on Thursday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
• It will be cold: Friday will bring record low temperatures across a wide swath of the United States, including from the lower Mississippi River, northeast into Tennessee and the Ohio Valley, from the southeast to much of the east, across the southern Appalachians to The middle, and the middle — the Atlantic, according to the National Weather Service.
• Dangerous wind chill: The plummeting temperatures will be accompanied by strong winds that will create dangerously cold winds across nearly all of the central and eastern United States.
• Blizzard warning: The northern Midwest will experience severe cold, heavy snow and strong winds. The warning applies to parts of Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Michigan. A blizzard warning is in effect for Buffalo, New York, on Friday morning. Such warnings are in effect when snow and 35 mph winds reduce visibility to less than a quarter mile for at least three hours.
• Whitening conditions: Even if the snowfall stops, blizzard conditions may exist as strong winds can lift snow already on the ground and cause low visibility.
A separate storm system brought heavy mixed precipitation to the Pacific Northwest on Friday.
A winter storm warning is in effect for western Washington, including Seattle, until 7 p.m. PST Friday. Additional snowfall could be as much as 2 inches and ice accretion could be as much as a quarter of an inch. Precipitation will start with snow, transition to sleet/freezing rain, and finally rain. There could be more power outages and travel will be very difficult.
The icing closed the runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and canceled nearly half of the flights in and out of the airport, according to FlightAware. Additionally, all delivery services on Sound Transit, the regional transit network in the Seattle metro area, were suspended on Friday due to the cold weather.
A winter storm warning was also issued for northeast Oregon, including Portland, between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. PST. Total snow and sleet accumulations could be as high as an inch, ice accumulations could be 0.2 to 0.4 inches, and wind gusts could reach 55 mph. Wind chill can be as low as zero and exposed skin can suffer from frostbite in as little as 30 minutes.
Aside from heavy snow and blizzards, one of the biggest dangers of this massive winter storm is the rapid drop in temperatures in a short period of time. The air will continue to get colder, especially at night.