US deep freeze forecast to break Christmas Eve records
Dec 24 (Reuters) – An arctic blast gripped much of the United States on Saturday, causing power outages, flight cancellations and crashes as plunging temperatures were forecast to bring the coldest Christmas Eve on record to several cities from Pennsylvania to Georgia.
Temperatures are forecast to peak Saturday at just 7 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 13 degrees Celsius) in Pittsburgh, surpassing the previous coldest Christmas Eve high of 13 degrees F set in 1983, the National Weather Service said ( NWS).
Cities in Georgia and South Carolina — Athens and Charleston — were also expected to record their lowest daily high temperatures on Christmas Eve, while Washington, D.C., was expected to experience its coldest December 24 since 1989.
The string of Christmas temperature records was predicted as a deep freeze in the US, exacerbated by dangerously cold winds, continued to envelop much of the eastern two-thirds of the nation over the holiday weekend.
The freeze has already led to fatal car crashes across the country, with CNN reporting at least 14 dead as a result of weather-related accidents.
Arctic cold combined with a “bomb cyclone” of heavy snow and howling winds coming out of the Great Lakes region on Friday and into the Upper Mississippi and Ohio valleys wreaked havoc on power systems, roads and commercial air traffic.
Extreme winter weather was blamed for at least five deaths on Friday.
Two drivers were killed and many others injured in a 50-vehicle pileup that closed an Ohio highway in both directions during a blizzard near Toledo, forcing stranded drivers to be evacuated by bus to avoid freezing in their cars, officials said.
Three more weather-related deaths were confirmed in neighboring Kentucky — two from car crashes and one homeless person who died from exposure.
Freezing rain and ice from a separate storm in the Pacific Northwest made travel treacherous there as well on Friday.
BORDER TO BORDER
From the Canadian to Mexican border and coast to coast, a total of about 240 million people were under some form of winter weather warnings and advisories Friday, according to the weather service.
The NWS said its map of existing or impending weather hazards “depicts one of the highest levels of winter weather warnings and advisories.”
As power systems across the country are strained by rising demand for heat and storm-related damage to transmission lines, about 1.8 million U.S. homes and businesses were without power early Saturday morning, according to the tracking site Poweroutage.us.
The disruptions upended the daily lives and vacation plans of millions of Americans during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
The American Automobile Association estimated that 112.7 million people planned to travel 50 miles (80 km) or more from home between Friday and January 2. But stormy weather heading into the weekend is likely to keep many of them at home.
At least 3,741 U.S. flights were canceled Saturday, with total delays reaching 10,297, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. More than 5,000 flights were canceled on Friday, the flight tracker said.
The city of Buffalo and surrounding Lake Erie County in western New York imposed a driving ban and all three border bridges in the Buffalo area were closed to inbound traffic from Canada due to the weather.
The severe weather has prompted authorities across the country to open warming centers in libraries and police stations as they scramble to expand temporary shelter for the homeless. The challenge has been compounded by the influx of migrants crossing the US southern border by the thousands in recent weeks.
Bitter cold, boosted by strong winds, extended across the Deep South to the US-Mexico border, dropping wind chill factors into the single digits Fahrenheit (minus 18 to minus 13 Celsius) in El Paso, Texas. Exposure to such conditions can cause frostbite within minutes.
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Joel Schechtman, Gabriella Borter, Tim Reed, Lisa Baertlein, Erwin Seba, Susan Hevey, Laila Kearney, Alison McLaren, Alexandra Michalska and Scott DiSavino; Written by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Aurora Ellis, William Mallard and Diane Craft
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