Millions of people hunkered down to weather the winter storm that has killed at least 34 people across the United States and is expected to claim more lives after trapping people inside homes and knocking out power to dozens of thousands of homes and businesses.
The magnitude of the storm was of a magnitude rarely seen, stretching from Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico.
About 60% of the U.S. population faced some kind of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures dropped significantly below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to Appalachia, the National Weather Service said. .
“In some areas, being outdoors can lead to frostbite within minutes,” the National Weather Service (NWS) said in a statement. bulletin. The service advised anyone traveling or going out to “prepare for extreme cold by dressing in layers, covering as many exposed areas of skin as possible and carrying winter safety kits in your vehicles”.
The storm claimed lives in several states, including Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and New York. On Sunday, 60% of the American population was under weather alert.
Across the border in Canada, authorities said a bus overturned on an icy highway in British Columbia on Christmas Eve, killing four people and injuring three dozen. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Sunday the bus crashed on Highway 97C east of Merritt.
The regional health authority said 36 people were treated for injuries ranging from minor to serious. Eight remained hospitalized Sunday morning, including two in serious condition and two with non-life-threatening injuries.
The winter storm has also battered Ontario and Quebec in recent days, causing flight cancellations and school closures, and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers.
In the United States, among the hardest-hit localities was Buffalo, where two days of heavy snow and high winds created conditions that local authorities said were likely the most severe since 1977. The snowfall was expected to be 4 to 5 feet Sunday evening, drifting to 6 feet.
Three days into the blizzard, people remained stuck in cars on highways and streets, officials said. At one point, all of the city’s fire trucks were grounded, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul said, while ambulances averaged three hours each way.
“It’s like a Category 3 hurricane with a pile of snow mixed in,” said Tim Carney, chief of the local sheriff’s office whose jurisdiction includes Buffalo.
County Executive Mark Poloncarz confirmed seven deaths early Sunday. “It’s not the Christmas any of us hoped or expected, but try to have as merry a Christmas as possible today,” he tweeted.
Poloncarz added, “Remember the holiday spirit and why we are a community of good neighbors. Once again, my deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones. »
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights were gradually being restored across the United States. According to poweroutage.us, fewer than 200,000 customers were without power as of 3 p.m. EDT Sunday — down from a peak of 1.7 million.
The storm, which forecasters named Elliott, caused thousands of flights to be canceled or delayed. According to tracking site FlightAware, 1,707 domestic and international flights were canceled around 2 p.m. EDT on Sunday.
In New York, about 34,000 homes were still without power on Sunday, including 26,000 in Erie County, where utility crews and hundreds of National Guard troops battled high winds and struggled to get stuck in the snow.
Deaths related to the storm have been reported in recent days across the country: 12 in Erie County, New York, aged 26 to 93, and another in Niagara County where a 27-year-old man was overwhelmed by carbon monoxide. after the snow has blocked his furnace; 10 in Ohio, including an employee electrocuted and people killed in multiple car crashes; six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; a Vermont woman struck by a falling branch; a seemingly homeless man found amidst Colorado’s sub-freezing temperatures; and a woman who fell through the ice of the Wisconsin River.
The worst effects of Elliott are expected to lift in parts of the country. The weather service said conditions were expected to “slowly improve as the system weakens”. However, the winds “would continue to filter cold Canadian air to the eastern two-thirds of the country.”
The storm is likely to bring attention back to the issue of climate change, which likely worsened the conditions that produced Elliot’s “bomb cyclone”. the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) stated on its website that “more snowfall during snow storms is an expected effect of climate change”.
This is because a hotter planet evaporates more water into the atmosphere. That extra moisture means more precipitation in the form of heavy snowfall or showers, he said. During the hottest months, the EDF said, this can cause record flooding, “but during the winter – when our part of the world is away from the sun – temperatures drop and, instead of showers, we can have massive winter storms”.
A more unstable jet stream attributed to rapid Arctic warming is allowing freezing polar air to penetrate farther south than normal, EDF said.
Associated Press contributed to this report