- By Nadine Yousif
- BBC News
Updated 33 minutes
The major winter storm hitting the United States this week may bring the coldest Christmas in four decades, forecasters warn.
More than 200 million people are under winter weather alert on one of the busiest tourist days of the year. Temperatures could drop to minus 57 degrees Celsius.
The cold snap began in the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday, then turned east. Friday is expected to become a “cyclonic pump“.
This arctic storm affects much of the United States and Canada. The alerts extend from coast to coast and reach as far south as the border with Mexico.
Temperatures could drop to –57 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country, forecasters have said. They warn that these temperatures could drop to freezing in 5 to 10 minutes.
The winter storm is called Elliot. The arctic blast is expected to cause the coldest Christmas in the Midwest since the late 1980s.
Even the sunny state of Florida is forecast to have its coldest Christmas in 30 years.
Chaos and frustration at airports
By Bernd Debusmann, Washington correspondent
With an increasing number of flights delayed or canceled in the United States, thousands of passengers have been stranded or struggling to find alternatives as they rush home for the holidays.
I’m back in Washington DC, about 16 hours after hopping on a plane for what was supposed to be a relatively simple, one-stop ride back from the border in El Paso, Texas.
The trip, however, turned into an odyssey marked by frustration. A several-hour delay to my first flight to Dallas, where temperatures have dipped to minus 4 degrees Celsius, caused a missed connection.
I wasn’t the only one. In Dallas, I saw dozens of people sleeping in terminals or begging airline staff to help them. Others just gave up and headed to local hotels to find out what to do next.
Finally, I managed to get an alternate flight, which was again delayed by several hours. A BBC colleague on her way to her New York home had her flight canceled entirely, forcing her to fly to Washington, 200 miles away, from where she planned to catch a train.
About two hours after the scheduled departure, my flight took off. Any feeling of relief, however, was premature. As we approached Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington, the pilot announced that weather would force us to divert to the city’s second airport, Dulles International, about 40 minutes from downtown.
winds and snow
The storm is expected to bring strong winds and snowdrifts, the US National Weather Service (NWS) reported.
“Cold winds of this magnitude can cause freezing in less than five minutes if precautions are not taken, and hypothermia and death are also possible from prolonged exposure to cold,” the agency said.
The NWS rated it as a “once in a generation” winter weather eventespecially when the storm reaches the Great Lakes region, where its pressure is expected to reach the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane.
The governors of Kentucky and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency.
“We had a great Thanksgiving week with minimal disruption,” the US Secretary of Transportation said Wednesday. Pete Buttigieg, to the cable channel MSNBC.
“Unfortunately, it’s not going to be like this at Christmas.”
The storm comes as the Transportation Security Administration expects holiday travel volume is close to pre-pandemic levels.
The American Automobile Association estimated that more than 112 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home between Friday and January 2, the vast majority (102 million) by car.
More than 2,200 flights have already been canceled for Thursday and Friday, according to FlightAware, an air traffic monitoring website.
Denver is facing the brunt of the cold snap already this Thursday with temperatures plummeting.
The Denver Coliseum, an indoor arena, is being converted into a warm-up center.
Chicago has been warned to prepare for heavy snowfall, with gusts to exceed 50 mph.
As the storm develops, forecasters anticipate it becoming a “bomb cyclone.”
What is a cyclone pump?
It is the term assigned to a rapidly intensifying storm, with a drop in air pressure in the center of at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.
They are known as cyclone bombs due to the explosive power that causes the rapid drop in pressure.
Such storms bring weather ranging from blizzards to strong thunderstorms to heavy precipitation.
Bomb cyclones are most common on the east coast of the United States and Canada, where the cold ground and warm current of the Gulf Stream provide optimal conditions for their occurrence.
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