Christmas time: Winter storm blasting US hampers holiday travel and brings record lows
A major arctic blast is dropping temperatures to dangerous levels across much of the country and developing “bomb cyclone” is set to ease heavy snow and blizzard conditions, especially across the Midwest on Thursday and Friday — a combination that makes for a dangerous few days before Christmas.
The cold air and storm are affecting nearly every state in some way: More than 110 million people from coast to coast were under winter weather warnings for snow or icy conditions Thursday morning, the National Weather Service said.
And more than 90 million people were under wind chill warnings from the Canadian border to the Mexican border and from Washington state to Florida, with subzero wind chills recorded as far south as Texas on Thursday morning and expected to reach the Southeast by Friday.
“Life-threatening cold winds over the Great Plains (will) sweep across the eastern half of the nation by Friday,” The Weather Forecast Center said – and wind chills below minus 50 degrees have already been reported over the past day in parts of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Temperatures in some cases dropped by record speed: Denver saw a low of 65 degrees in the 16 hours from Wednesday (50 degrees) to 5 a.m. Thursday (minus 15 degrees). A drop of 37 degrees in one hour at Denver International Airport was previously the largest one-hour drop on record there, according to National Weather Service in Boulder.
Meanwhile, snow has hit parts of the west and is expected over the next two days across much of the eastern half of the country.
A major snowstorm looms especially for the Midwest and Great Lakes: Widespread light to moderate snowfall, but with strong winds that could make travel conditions impossible.
“Heavy snowfall of 1-2″/hour along with wind gusts above 50 mph will result in near zero visibility and significant blowing and drifting snow,” the forecast center said.
The storm is expected to become a “bomb cyclone” Thursday night into Friday, reaching pressure equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane as it moves toward the Great Lakes.
More than 1,700 flights were canceled in the US on Thursday, according to the flight tracking site FlightAwaresnarling air transport amid the busy holiday season.
Near zero visibility on the roads led to the closure of many highways between Colorado and Wyoming on Wednesday. Wyoming Highway Patrol said he responded to nearly 800 service calls over a 12-hour period Wednesday, telling drivers to stay off the roads.
In South Dakota, more than 100 vehicles were stranded on snow-covered roads in low-visibility conditions Wednesday night, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said.
Not even Florida will be spared, with residents of the Sunshine State expected to see sudden temperature drops on Friday. Some cities to the south — including Nashville and Memphis — are expected to see snow on Thursday.
Meanwhile, flooding is possible in parts of the Northeast, including Washington and Philadelphia, as rain lashed the area on Thursday before temperatures plummeted overnight and brought “flash freeze.”
President Joe Biden received a weather briefing Thursday morning at the White House from the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He encouraged Americans to heed warnings from local authorities and stay safe in the face of extreme cold.
“This is really a very serious weather alert,” Biden said, adding that the White House had contacted 26 governors in the affected regions.
• Snow was already falling Thursday morning from Colorado to Michigan
• Snow and strong winds are expected to make for dire travel conditions from eastern Montana and the northern plains to the Midwest and upstate New York.
• blizzard warnings — meaning snow and 35 mph winds will often reduce visibility to less than a quarter mile for at least three hours — were in effect Thursday morning for some of those areas, including southwest of Minneapolis; south and east of Chicago and west and northern Michigan.
• Snow is expected to fall in Chicago around noon.
• Major cities including Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Detroit are under winter storm warnings.
• Wind chill warnings, watches and advisories were in effect for more than 30 states from Washington to Florida on Thursday.
• An arctic front will head south into the Gulf of Mexico and sweep up the East Coast late Friday, bringing cold to the Deep South.
• Daytime temperatures on Thursday could stay below freezing in the northern Plains and reach just above that in the central Plains.
• Areas further south — Texas and the Gulf Coast — will see temperatures in the single digits and the teens Thursday night, the Storm Prediction Center said.
• Authorities in several southern states are warning residents to take precautions. Alabama warned that Thursday and Friday will likely see the “coldest December air mass to hit the state since 1989,” the state’s emergency management agency said. Friday’s lows in that state were expected to range from the single digits in the north to the low 20s in the Gulf of Mexico.
• Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards he asked residents on Thursday to check on friends and family members who may be struggling with the cold temperatures. Lows Friday and Saturday were expected to be in the teens and 20s there.
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