A once-in-a-generation winter storm with temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit (Celsus) caused Christmas travel chaos in the United States on Thursday, with thousands of flights canceled and major highways closed.
Heavy snow and howling winds upended holiday plans at one of the busiest times of the year as a massive cold front swooped down from the Arctic and frozen the center of the country.
Tens of millions of people were under winter storm warnings or warnings, and meteorologists said it was so cold in places that anyone venturing outside risked frostbite within minutes.
“This is not like a snow day as a kid,” President Joe Biden told reporters. “This is serious stuff.”
Whiteouts and dangerous road conditions were already spreading, even as 100 million people were expected to take to the roads, according to the American Automobile Association.
I-90, a major northbound highway in South Dakota, was closed and officials said it would not reopen until Friday.
“Crews are using all resources across the state to clear and restore roadways,” the South Dakota Department of Transportation said.
“There are currently multiple highways listed as ‘Road Impassable’ … the stretch of road is physically impossible to travel due to extensive drifting and deep snow.”
About 100 drivers were stranded near Rapid City, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.
“DOES NOT RECOMMEND TRAVEL,” he added.
Flight tracking website Flightaware.com showed more than 22,000 flights were delayed and 5,500 canceled on Thursday, many at Chicago O’Hare or Denver, both international hubs.
Madison Painter told CNN that she and her fiancé decided to drive 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) after their flight from Chicago to Atlanta was canceled.
“I wanted to come home to our families,” he said.
Holiday travel volumes are expected to remain close to pre-pandemic levels, with the busiest day on Thursday, three days before Christmas.
AccuWeather forecasters said the storm could quickly strengthen through a process known as a “bomb cyclone,” a process called “bombogenesis,” when barometric pressure drops and a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass.
The National Weather Service warned that heavy snow — bursts of snow lasting an hour or two — had already occurred or were expected from the Central Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Montana forecasters said they were expecting the coldest Arctic night on Thursday, with temperatures in the -40s Fahrenheit and wind chills that would push the temperature to a bone-crushing -60 Fahrenheit, slightly warmer than Mars. Data from NASA.
Rich Maliawco, chief forecaster for the National Weather Service in Glasgow, Montana, said an invading high pressure system was pushing the clouds away.
“When the sky is so clear… the temperatures will drop significantly,” he told AFP.
While longtime residents have experienced temperatures in that range, such extreme weather can be dangerous, Maliawco said.
“When it gets that cold, anyone can have problems,” he said.
“With these kinds of wind chills, if you’re not wearing those warm layers … unprotected skin can get frostbite in less than five minutes.”
Conditions were cold enough that people posted videos of themselves doing the “boiling water challenge,” where boiling water is thrown into the air and immediately freezes.
“We have our cloud formation @ -17°F (-27°C) at #Missoula International Airport,” tweeted the NWS in Missoula, Montana.
State of exception
In Minneapolis and Saint Paul, more than eight inches (20 centimeters) of snow accumulated in a 24-hour period, the NWS said in a Thursday morning update.
Further east in Buffalo, New York, forecasters called it a “once-in-a-generation storm” with wind gusts of more than 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour, with wind chills of 10 to 20 degrees F below zero. and power outages.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul joined several other state governors in declaring a state of emergency, warning of a long list of possible disasters.
“Heavy rain and snow, strong winds, coastal and lake flooding, freezing temperatures, low wind chills and power outages are possible,” one bulletin said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)
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