More than a million U.S. electricity customers were left in the dark Friday as a “bomb cyclone” winter storm tore through the country, closing highways, grounding flights and causing misery for Christmas travelers.
Heavy snow, howling winds and air so cold it instantly turned boiling water to ice gripped much of the nation, including normally temperate southern states.
More than 200 million Americans were under weather warnings, as wind chills sent temperatures down as low as -55 Fahrenheit (-48 Celsius), according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
In Hamburg, New York, 39-year-old Jennifer Orlando hung out with her husband.
“I can’t see across the street,” she told AFP. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Her power was out for four hours after a vehicle slid into a power line on the highway, she said.
The bitter cold is an immediate concern for hundreds of thousands of electric customers who were without power, according to tracker poweroutage.us.
In El Paso, Texas, desperate migrants who had crossed from Mexico huddled for warmth in churches, schools and a civic center, Rosa Falcon, a school teacher and volunteer, told AFP.
But some still chose to stay outside in temperatures of -15 Fahrenheit because they feared attention from immigration authorities, she added.
In Chicago, Burke Patten of Night Ministry, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the homeless, said, “We’ve been handing out cold weather gear, including coats, hats, gloves, thermal underwear, blankets and sleeping bags, along with hand and foot warmers. “
Major Caleb Senn, the Chicago area commander for the Salvation Army, said the organization had centers open for people to take shelter from the severe weather.
“Some of the people we’re seeing right now, they’ve just become homeless this year,” he said.
“Some of these people are actually scared. This is the first time they’ve been out in the elements with nowhere to go.”
Some, however, took the biting cold in their stride.
In Canada, stoic last-minute holiday shoppers in downtown Toronto shrugged off the plunging temperatures.
Jennifer Campbell, of Caledon, Ontario, told AFP: “I think we get a few big storms every few years and we just adapt. We’re Canadians, that’s how we do it.”
Chaos in air travel
Transportation departments in North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa and elsewhere reported near-zero visibility, icy roads and blizzards and strongly urged residents to stay home.
At least two traffic deaths were reported in Oklahoma on Thursday. Andy Beshear, the governor of Kentucky, confirmed three in his state.
In Ohio, a 50-vehicle pileup left at least one person dead, according to local media, while an accident in Michigan involving nine tractor-trailers snarled traffic.
Drivers were warned not to hit the roads – even as the country reached what is usually the busiest time of year for travel.
“This is an epic, statewide danger,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a press briefing.
“The roads will be like a skating rink and your tires won’t be able to handle this.”
About 5,000 U.S. flights were canceled Friday and another 7,600 delayed, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware, many at international hubs in New York, Seattle and Chicago’s O’Hare.
The consequences spread misery even to travelers arriving in balmy Los Angeles.
Christine Lerosen told ABC 7 she had been unable to find a flight from Vancouver.
“I had to get my brother to drive me down to Seattle — I had to book a flight from Seattle to go to Denver, to fly here. My Seattle flight was delayed, my Denver flight was delayed and now they lost my luggage.” She said.
By Friday afternoon, the storm had been given “bomb cyclone” status after air pressure dropped steeply over 24 hours.
Bomb cyclones produce heavy rain or snow. They can also cause coastal flooding and generate hurricane-force winds.
Toronto meteorologist Kelsey McEwen tweeted that waves of up to 26 feet (eight meters) have been reported in Lake Erie, while in Fairport Harbor in Ohio, winds gusted to 74 miles (120 kilometers) per hour, the NWS tweeted.
Rich Maliawco, lead forecaster for the NWS in Glasgow, Montana, where the wind chill dropped to -60 Fahrenheit overnight, warned the weather was extremely dangerous.
“With this kind of wind chill, if you don’t wear the warm layers… unprotected skin can get frostbite in less than five minutes,” he said.
Conditions were cold enough for people to post videos of themselves completing the “boiling water challenge,” where boiling water is thrown into the air and instantly freezes.
“We created our own cloud @ -17° F (-27° C) at #Missoula International Airport,” tweeted NWS Missoula, Montana.
© 2022 AFP
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