MMore than 200 million US citizens are facing the iciest Christmas in decades. Meteorologists predicted snowstorms with wind speeds of up to 112 kilometers per hour, especially for the Great Lakes area. In some regions, even higher wind speeds were reported on Friday morning (local time).
On Mount Washington, for example, the highest peak in the north-east of the USA, the wind lashed at a speed of over 150 km/h. In the state of Montana, temperatures have already dropped to minus 46 degrees Celsius. Snowdrifts more than ten feet high in South Dakota.
According to the FlightAware website, airlines canceled more than 5,000 flights for Friday. More than 1.4 million connections were without power, as documented by the “PowerOutage” website.
According to media reports, at least 17 people died, most in traffic accidents. Traffic came to a complete standstill on many roads. In Kansas City, Missouri, a driver died after his car slid into a river on Thursday. Michigan police reported multiple accidents Friday, including a pile-up.
Meteorologists warned of a “bomb cyclone” on the Great Lakes near the border with Canada, which occurs when the air pressure in a low-pressure area drops unusually quickly. The result is wild snowstorms – blizzards – and temperature drops of several dozen degrees within a few hours.
The freezing cold will move east from the middle of the USA. Cold warnings will affect more than 200 million people in the coming days, that is about 60 percent of the population. President Joe Biden also warned that it would not be a snowy day like when we were children: “This is serious.”
In many parts of the country, authorities worried about possible power outages. They strongly recommended taking precautions to care for the elderly, the homeless and livestock and – if possible – avoiding travel.
The rail company Amtrak suspended its journeys in the Midwest on more than 20 connections until over Christmas. In Detroit, authorities said nearly 170 people were staying in an emergency shelter and warm-up facility designed for 100 people on Friday morning.
In Montana, the Elk Park mountain pass reported minus 46 degrees Celsius. The local weather service in Minnesota warned against travel. “This event could be life threatening if you are stranded in wind forces and temperatures between 30 and 45 degrees below zero,” he explained. Police there reported dozens of accidents and vehicles going off the road.
In neighboring South Dakota, the hydraulic fluid in clearing equipment froze at minus 40.5 degrees Celsius, meaning that they were no longer able to counteract the meter-high snowdrifts. On Wednesday, the rescue workers got through to people trapped in their houses in 15 rescue operations, now they had to stop working, said head of operations Robert Oliver. The equipment is simply not enough against this weather.
Buffalo, New York State, notorious for its snowfall, was expecting its worst blizzard in living memory. Meteorologists expected wind speeds of up to 112 kilometers per hour and heavy snowfall for Friday. Mayor Byron Brown announced a state of emergency for Friday and called on residents to stay at home if possible.
The area is affected by the lake effect, in which cold air pulls over the still comparatively warm water of the Great Lakes, absorbs the moisture and dumps it back on land as snow.
The blizzard made it difficult to get propane gas and firewood to people in remote areas. “It’s just kind of scary for us here, we feel kind of isolated and alone,” said Kansas regional representative Shawn Bordeaux, who was running out of propane.
Because of the wintry conditions, numerous flights were also canceled in Canada on Friday, and schools were closed in the provinces of Ontario and Québec.
The all-clear was given with a view to Santa Claus. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said it did not expect snowstorms and frigid winter weather in North America to affect Santa’s global itinerary. The joint Canada-US facility is known for tracking Santa’s alleged movements.
For the rest of the year, the organization is responsible for monitoring air and space and for warning the two North American countries about attacks with ICBMs. Norad representative Lt. Gen. David Nahom said the pandemic hasn’t impacted Santa’s busy delivery schedules, and he doesn’t expect the weather this weekend to be impacted either. The freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall affecting travel across the US shouldn’t be a problem for a man living at the North Pole, he said.