© Reuters. A man throws boiling water into the snow in Carbon County, Montana, U.S., December 22, 2022 in this still image obtained from social media video. Twitter/ @MementoMori_JMJ/via REUTERS
Par Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – A deep freeze shrouding most of the United States early on Friday, combined with a massive winter storm brewing in the Midwest, left two-thirds of the country under severe weather warnings, confusing plans for travel of millions of Americans.
Heading into the Christmas holiday weekend, the impending storm was expected to develop into a “bomb cyclone”, unleashing blinding heavy snow from the northern Plains and Great Lakes region to the upper Mississippi Valley and Western New York.
The numbing cold intensified by the high winds was expected to extend as far south as the US-Mexico border.
Hard freeze warnings were posted in the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, while severe icing was possible from a separate Arctic explosion hitting the Pacific Northwest.
As of Thursday evening, most of the lower 48 states, from Washington to Florida, were subject to wind chill alerts, blizzard warnings or other winter weather advisories affecting more than 200 million people, or about 60% of the US population, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported.
The NWS map of existing or impending winter hazards, covering border-to-border and coast-to-coast, “represents one of the largest expanses of winter weather warnings and advisories,” the official said. ‘agency.
The bomb cyclone could trigger snowfall of half an inch (1.25 cm) per hour driven by high winds, reducing visibility to near zero, the weather service said.
Combined with arctic cold, wind chill factors as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (minus 40 degrees Celsius) have been predicted in the High Plains, northern Rockies and Great Basin, the NWS reported. Exposure to such conditions without proper protection can cause frostbite within minutes.
Power outages were expected due to high winds, heavy snowfall and ice, as well as pressure from higher than usual energy demands.
One of the biggest immediate impacts, even before the storm fully took shape, was the disruption of commercial air traffic during the busy holiday period.
THOUSANDS OF CANCELED FLIGHTS
More than 5,000 U.S. flights scheduled for Thursday and Friday have been canceled, with two major Chicago airports accounting for nearly 1,300 of the cancellations, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.
Future vacation traveler Brandon Mattis, 24, said on Thursday his flight from New York to Atlanta was canceled due to the upcoming storm, leaving him “angry” at LaGuardia Airport in Queens.
Mattis said he was researching alternate routes and even considering a 9-hour bus ride to Atlanta. “Anything we can do to get there, we will do,” he told Reuters.
The American Automobile Association had estimated that 112.7 million people planned to travel 80 km or more from home between December 23 and January 2, an increase of 3.6 million travelers from last year and approaching pre-pandemic numbers.
But that number was likely to be reduced by air and road travel complicated by hazardous weather ahead of the weekend.
Even US President Biden urged Americans to think twice before venturing out after Thursday, calling the storm “dangerous and threatening”.
“It’s not like a snowy day when you were a kid, it’s serious stuff,” he said Thursday at the White House.
The extreme cold also posed a particular hazard to livestock in livestock-intensive areas of the country. Aliments Tyson Inc (NYSE:), the nation’s top meat producer by sales, said it has scaled back operations to protect workers and animals.
The weather service said deep frost relief was in sight for the northern Rockies and High Plains, where the Arctic blast first materialized on Thursday. Temperatures in parts of these regions could rebound by 40 to 60 degrees over the weekend as the cold air mass moves further east.
(Writing and reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Tyler Clifford, Rich McKay, Laila Kearney, Lisa Baertlein, Julia Harte, Nandita Bose, Scott DiSavino, Tom Polansek and PJ Huffstutter; Editing by Stephen Coates)
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