A winter storm of rare intensity swept the United States on Friday, causing freezing and dangerous conditions which disrupted transport in a large part of the country on the eve of Christmas, with thousands of flights canceled.
Friday morning, more than 240 million people were affected by alerts or calls for caution in the United States, wrote the American weather service (NWS). That is more than 70% of the population.
In many states, conditions were very dangerous to travel around, authorities warned. But millions of Americans flooded the roads and airports for the holiday season.
In New York State, a travel ban has even been issued in Erie County. “We stay at home (…) I can’t see across the street,” Jennifer Orlando told AFP, affected by this ban in the city of Hamburg, where it was around – 8°C Friday morning.
Because of the accident of a vehicle against a power line, she found herself without power for about four hours, she said.
More than a million Americans were without power Friday at midday, particularly in North and South Carolina, Connecticut and Texas, according to the specialized site Poweroutage.us.
“Please take this storm extremely seriously,” President Joe Biden urged Thursday. “I encourage everyone (…) to listen to the warnings at the local level,” he added. “It is serious”.
Friday noon, the specialized site Flightaware had more than 4,000 canceled flights in the United States, the most affected airports being those of Seattle (northwest), New York, Chicago (north) or Detroit.
By Thursday, about 10% of flights had been canceled, Transportation Minister Pete Buttigieg said Friday morning on MSNBC. “Several of the biggest air hubs are affected,” he added.
In total, about 112 million people must travel at least 80 kilometers between December 23 and January 2, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Several states have declared states of emergency, including New York, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Georgia and North Carolina.
“People should stay home, not venture out on the roads,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear told CNN on Friday morning. “Your family wants to see you home for Christmas, but most of all they want to see you alive.”
Due to snow and strong winds, “blizzard conditions can develop very quickly,” he said, adding that the National Guard had been deployed in the state.
He confirmed that three people had died on Kentucky roads. In Oklahoma, at least two people died on the road, according to the agency in charge of emergency management in that state.
Ultra-rapid temperature drop
Heavy snowfall was observed in the north of the country, particularly in the Great Lakes region.
But the phenomenon extended from the Canadian border in the north to the Mexican border in the south, and from the Pacific coast in the northwest to the Atlantic coast in the east, explained the American meteorologists.
This low pressure system is caused by a powerful conflict between two air masses: one very cold from the Arctic and the other tropical from the Gulf of Mexico.
What makes the current situation extraordinary is that the atmospheric pressure this time dropped very quickly, in less than 24 hours.
In New York, while the temperature was still around 10°C on Friday morning, it was expected to drop to -10°C in the evening.
In Chicago, it was Friday morning -20°C, and the temperatures were negative up to the Texas coast.
Canada too was bracing for unusually low temperatures for the season. On Friday, extreme cold, winter storm and even blizzard alerts were issued for a large majority of Canadian territory, according to Environment Canada.
In Alberta (west) and Saskatchewan (central part of the country), the observed temperature was between -40 and -50 degrees.