Reported deaths; widespread power outages
A powerful winter storm continued to batter the United States on Christmas Eve with dangerously cold temperatures and heavy snow, leaving in its wake fatal car crashes, thousands of canceled flights and millions of people at risk of future power outages = blackout.
The massive imprint of winter weather and its timing over a busy holiday week makes the Arctic blast particularly dangerous. The National Weather Service said Friday its warnings and advisories covered about 200 million people – “one of the largest spans of winter weather warnings and advisories ever seen,” forecasters said.
Nationwide, officials attributed at least 17 deaths to the storm.
In Ohio, approximately 50 vehicles were involved in a pileup that killed at least 4. An 82-year-old woman was found dead outside her Michigan assisted care facility on Friday amid dangerously cold temperatures. And in the Buffalo, New York area, which received jaw-dropping records of rain and snowfall on Friday, two people died in their homes after rescuers were unable to reach them in the historic blizzard conditions of the city.
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The dangers of winter weather are often localized and are not limited to snowfall. In New York, blizzard conditions created whiteouts and stranded motorists on the west side of the state, while flooding prompted water rescues on the east side.
Meanwhile, numbing wind chills have spread across the country. Every state in the contiguous United States will experience minimal wind chill below freezing on or before Christmas, according to the weather service.
Only a few parts of the US are expected to escape the freezing cold this Christmas – parts of California, Oregon, Arizona and Florida are among the few places in the country that won’t experience wind chill below zero, predicts the weather service.
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Further impacts from the storm continued to accumulate on Saturday. Reports of power outages hit some 1.7 million on Saturday morning before dropping significantly in the afternoon – and thousands of flights were canceled amid a busy holiday season.
“Severe weather across the country resulted in the cancellation of more than 20% of flights (Friday). The impacts continue today, but the FAA expects the most extreme disruptions to be behind us as airline and airport operations are gradually recovering,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
Buttigieg also noted that “many Amtrak services have also been canceled or delayed.” He warned people traveling by car this weekend to observe local warnings and weather hazards.
When will the winter storm be over?
Not before Christmas.
Federal forecasters expect a huge mass of cold air to continue to affect the country next week. These temperatures are a concern from Dakotas to Florida, even on Monday and Tuesday.
“Wind chills will still reach low 20s and low 30s Monday and Tuesday morning for most southern locations outside of South Florida,” said a According to Friday’s forecast.
But low temperatures are the main concern for forecasters for most of the country by Monday. Floods, rain and other hazards are expected to affect only more localized areas.
New York Governor Says Storm ‘One of Worst in History’; Buffalo snow record
New York Governor Kathy Hochul described the snowstorm that hit the western part of the state, particularly the Buffalo area, as “one of the worst in history” during a Saturday morning press briefing.
Hochul, who issued a statewide state of emergency that took effect Friday morning, also highlighted the storm’s impact on transportation risks and emergency response. Every fire truck in Buffalo, she said, was jammed and stuck in snow Saturday morning.
“No matter how many emergency vehicles we have, they can’t get through the conditions as we speak,” Hochul said.
According to the Weather Service, Buffalo reported a daily snowfall of 22.3 inches on Friday — nearly doubling the old record of 12.6 inches set in 1976. The city also reported 1.98 inches of rain Friday, surpassing the 1876 record of 1.73 inches.
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“In Buffalo, this storm will likely jump to at least near the top of the list of worst blizzards in city history, if not even become the worst,” meteorologist Jake Sojda said in an AccuWeather article. “Four to 6 feet of snow will fall by Sunday and coupled with gusty winds approaching hurricane force (74 mph or more) to create huge drifts and impossible travel.”
In addition to Hochul’s statement, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown declared a state of emergency beginning Friday morning.
“I’ve never seen this kind of storm,” Colleen Darby, 59, a longtime resident of the area, told The Associated Press. “I can’t even get out of my house right now. The snow is up to my chest.”
Hochul said saturday that she will also ask the federal government for a declaration of emergency, which would allow New York to seek reimbursement for “extraordinary expenses” incurred with overtime, mutual aid from around the state and the deployment of crews responding to the unprecedented storm.
Thousands of flights delayed, canceled on Christmas Eve
Travelers heading into airports on Christmas Eve face thousands of flight delays and cancellations.
FlightAware, an online tracker, reported Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET, more than 6,100 delays and more than 2,600 cancellations of flights within, to or from the United States
FlightAware’s “Misery Map” showed more than 900 delays and more than 250 cancellations seen between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET Saturday – with Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Denver International Airport seeing the most delays. flight delays and cancellations on Saturday afternoon.
On Friday, even more flights were affected – with FlightAware reporting a total of over 11,500 US flight delays and over 5,900 US flight cancellations.
Power outages affected more than a million homes, business early Saturday
Saturday, the power outages affected more than one million electric customers across the country, according to the PowerOutage.us website, which tracks utility reports.
Reports rose to around 1.7 million before dropping significantly on Saturday afternoon. North Carolina and Maine reported the highest number of power outages Saturday afternoon.
In Tennessee and North Carolina, utility companies have initiated controlled temporary blackouts in an effort to save energy. Memphis, Light, Gas and Water and Duke Energy customers, for example, were impacted by these rolling breakdowns on Saturday morning.
Both companies have confirmed that they are put an end to temporary blackouts around noon Saturday. But similar measures could still be taken in the future.
“The weather is still freezing and power demand may fluctuate. We are asking customers to be prepared in the event that (the Tennessee Valley Authority) implements power outages. We may be required to do so at any time without We are currently restoring power to all customers who are interrupted,” Memphis, Light, Gas and Water CEO Doug McGowen said in a statement at 11:00 a.m. CT.
Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection said due to inclement weather, power plants were struggling to operate – asking residents in 13 states to refrain from using electricity unnecessarily. The major power grid operator has also warned the 65 million people it serves in the eastern United States that future blackouts may be needed.
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Authorities are urging people to stay at home in many areas
Local and state authorities in the states, including MinnesotaMichigan, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky urged residents to limit their movements.
Michigan State Police warned travelers on Friday to stay off the roads.
“Most of the roads are icy and affected by blowing snow resulting in low visibility,” police said on Facebook. “If travel is not necessary, please stay home.”
Some forecasters have said the danger from the storm doesn’t come primarily from the amount of snowfall – it’s a combination of snow, wind, ice and freezing temperatures that were of particular concern in some areas.
“Don’t focus too much on snow totals… Significant winds and drifts will occur. Avoid travel!” the Buffalo Weather Service said Friday afternoon.
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The weather service office said it received numerous reports Friday night of people stranded along the roads.
What is the polar vortex?
According to the weather service, the polar vortex is a giant circular area of rotating cold air and low pressure that surrounds the two poles of the Earth. In the United States, the focus remains on the North Pole polar vortex, as it impacts weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.
People may only talk about the polar vortex when it sends freezing temperatures south to the Arctic — but it’s still there, the weather service notes, changing in strength from season to season.
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When the polar vortex is stable and strong, it usually stays near the North Pole. But when it weakens or splits, the frigid air can escape, channeling freezing temperatures further south into the United States, Europe and Asia.
What is wind chill?
Meteorologists define wind chill as the feeling of cold felt outdoors, and it’s based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the wind-cold combination, according to the National Weather Service. The increased wind draws heat away from the body, which lowers the temperature of the skin and the interior of the body.
“Chilblains can develop on exposed skin in as little as 10 to 20 minutes, and hypothermia can develop quickly if you’re not dressed for the cold,” Chicago Weather Services experts warned Thursday.
Contributor: Associated Press. Doyle Rice, USA TODAY. Samuel Hardiman, Memphis Commercial Appeal. Bryce Airgood and Mark Johnson, Lansing State Journal.