A wild winter storm continued to envelop much of the United States and parts of Canada on Saturday, bringing blinding blizzards, freezing rain, flooding and life-threatening cold to most of the country. A major electricity grid operator that serves 65 million people across the eastern US said power plants are having difficulty operating in the frigid weather and has asked residents to refrain from unnecessary use of electricity.
The frigid temperatures and gusty winds were expected to produce “dangerously cold wind chills across much of the central and eastern US this holiday weekend,” the weather service said, adding that the conditions “will create a potentially life-threatening hazard for travelers that become stranded.”
“In some areas, being outdoors could lead to frostbite in minutes,” it said.
Adding to the woes were power outages that by early Saturday were still affecting more than 1.7 million homes and businesses, according to the website PowerOutage, which tracks utility reports.
The storm was nearly unprecedented in its scope, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the US population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.
Freezing rain coated much of the Pacific Northwest in a layer of ice, while people in the Northeast faced the threat of coastal and inland flooding.
As millions of Americans were traveling ahead of Christmas, more than 5,700 flights within, into or out of the US were canceled Friday, according to the tracking site FlightAware.
Multiple highways were closed and crashes claimed at least six lives, officials said. Four people died in a massive pileup involving some 50 vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike. A Kansas City, Missouri driver was killed Thursday after skidding into a creek, and three others died Wednesday in separate crashes on icy northern Kansas roads.
Calling it a “kitchen sink storm,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency. In parts of New York City, tidal flooding inundated roads, homes and businesses Friday morning.
In Boston, rain combined with a high tide, flooded some downtown streets on Friday. Even people in Florida were bracing for unusually chilly weather as rare freeze warnings were issued for large parts of the state over the holiday weekend.
In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights Friday at Toronto Pearson International Airport, as meteorologists there warned of a potential once-in-a-decade weather event. While in Mexico, migrants camped near the US border in unusually cold temperatures as they awaited a US Supreme Court decision on pandemic-era restrictions that prevent many from seeking asylum.
Forecasters said a bomb cyclone – when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm – had developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.
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