Arctic air from a winter storm system engulfed much of the East Coast on Friday, causing power outages and snarling holiday travel with heavy snow, blizzard conditions and dangerously cold temperatures.
It’s the the same system that already has been blamed for several deaths and wreaked havoc on holiday travel plans. More than 5,000 U.S. flights were canceled by 6 p.m. ET Friday, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.
State officials reported numerous fatalities due to vehicle crashes that authorities have linked to the winter weather. Four deaths were confirmed in a massive pileup involving dozens of vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike. A Kansas City, Missouri, driver died after skidding into a creek, and three others were killed Wednesday in separate crashes in northern Kansas.
Cities across the South, including Nashville, recorded temperatures as low as minus 1 degree early Friday – the lowest Music City has seen in nearly 27 years.
About 150 million people in the U.S. face dangerous wind chills in the days leading up to Christmas, according to weather service data Friday that tracks wind chill warnings and advisories.
“Over 200 million people, or roughly 60% of the U.S. population, are under some form of winter weather warnings or advisories across the U.S. today,” the weather service said Friday morning.
Huge swaths of the nation on Friday felt minimum wind chill temperatures in the negative double digits and will continue to see them in the coming days, according to the weather service.
A weather phenomenon known as a bomb cyclone, essentially a winter hurricane, developed Friday in areas including the Great Lakes, which is expected to worsen blizzard conditions.
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What defines a blizzard? Heavy snow and high winds expected to sweep across country.
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Whiteouts and flooding have left New Yorkers stranded or trapped in their vehicles as the state was hit with a “kitchen sink” storm, said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul during a press briefing Friday.
“It is throwing everything at us but the kitchen sink. We’ve had ice, flooding, snow, freezing temperatures, and everything that Mother Nature could wallop at us this weekend,” Hochul said during the briefing.
Parts of the state have been blasted with snow while other parts faced storm flooding that inundated roads, homes and businesses.
In Queens, a New York City borough on Long Island, police officers were seen pulling stranded motorists out of knee-deep water.
According to the city’s Emergency Management Commissioner Zachary Iscol, police have done a number of rescues Friday but none were life-threatening.
In the western part of New York, the weather service in Buffalo received numerous reports Friday night of people being stranded along roadways amid ongoing whiteouts and wind chills dropping 20 degrees below.
Weather contributed to fatal 46+ vehicle Ohio pileup, police say
Four deaths were confirmed and multiple other people were injured Friday in a massive crash involving at least 46 vehicles as result of “not favorable” weather conditions, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Sgt. Ryan Purpura said Friday.
The crash occurred Friday morning on the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County. On Friday night, state troopers were still clearing 15 commercial vehicles from the roadway.
“Weather is a factor in the crash. All parties involved in the crash have been moved to a local facility by bus to stay warm,” the agency said.
Photos and videos posted on social media showed numerous cars piled against each other and mangled semitrucks.
As the winter storm moved into the Cincinnati region late Thursday, officials reported other deaths and injuries statewide in weather-related automobile crashes.
Migrants waited near the U.S.-Mexico border in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Trump administration-era ban on asylum — Title 42.
As freezing weather descended on El Paso, Texas, many withstood the cold and some arranged blankets on the floor of a shelter near the border as they awaited news on whether or when Title 42 will be lifted.
The restriction was recently granted a brief extension by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts but it remains unclear when a definitive decision will come from the higher court. The Biden administration has asked the court to lift the restrictions, but not before Christmas.
Under Title 42, authorities have expelled asylum-seekers within the U.S. 2.5 million times and have denied most asylum-seekers at the border, on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
‘Zero mile’ visibility in Buffalo shown in harrowing video
A band of heavy lake-effect snow descended over western New York from Buffalo to Niagara County Friday afternoon causing “zero mile” visibility.
The weather service in Buffalo reported that heavy, blowing snow and wind gusts over 60 mph created near whiteout conditions. It shared a video showing the “spectacular view of our parking lot” — blowing snow.
In addition to relentless winds, 2 to 3 feet of total snow is possible across the region. Temperatures continued to plummet from about 40 degrees down to 10 degrees at the Buffalo airport with wind chills in the negative digits.
The weather service also advised the public to avoid travel.
“Don’t focus too much on the snow totals… Significant blowing and drifting will be occurring. Avoid travel!” the weather service in Buffalo said Friday afternoon.
After high numbers on Thursday, more than 5,000 U.S. flights were canceled and over 8,400 more were delayed Friday as of 6:00 p.m. ET, according to FlightAware.
Blasted with heavy snow and winds, Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York closed entirely on Friday and canceled all evening flights.
Airlines have issued waivers in much of the Midwest, Northeast and even parts of the South for some carriers.
‘Please stay home,’ police warn as roads get dangerous in Michigan
Michigan State Police on Friday warned travelers to stay off the roads.
“Most roads are icy and impacted by blowing snow, which is causing low visibility,” police posted on Facebook. “If travel is not necessary, please stay home.”
State police also reported a semitractor trailer crash in the area.
The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids also warned motorists to stay put, especially those in West Michigan communities near Lake Michigan.
Things will look “only slightly better” Saturday, the weather service said.
The storm, also pummeling parts of Canada, intensified on Friday into a bomb cyclone, the National Weather Service reported. The agency said the atmospheric pressure of the storm dropped rapidly enough over the past 24 hours to classify the system that way.
John Moore, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the central pressure of the system had fallen rapidly and was expected to continue dropping over the next few hours.
Power outages left about 1 million homes and businesses in the dark by Friday evening, according to the website PowerOutage.us, which tracks utility reports.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public utility, ended its rolling blackouts Friday afternoon but continued to urge homes and businesses to conserve power.
As the winter storm dived into New England, Maine had the most power outages compared to other states with over 230,000 customers offline Friday night, according to PowerOutage.us.
In Texas, more than 27,000 people were without power Friday night, a drop from the 77,000 without power late Friday morning.
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Music City sees lowest temp in 27 years
The temperature at the Nashville International Airport dropped to minus 1 Friday morning, marking the first time in more than 25 years the city saw temperatures that low.
By 6 a.m. local time, the wind chill registered minus 19 degrees.
“This is the first time we’ve been below zero since 2/5/1996 (when it dropped to minus 3 degrees). However, the record low for this date is -8°F (1989),” the National Weather Service in Nashville tweeted.
Meteorologists define wind chill as how cold it feels while outdoors, and it’s based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the wind-and-cold combination, according to the National Weather Service. Increased wind draws heat from the body, which then lowers the temperature of the skin and internal body.
“Frostbite may develop on exposed skin in as few as 10-20 mins, and hypothermia can quickly develop if you’re not dressed for the cold,” weather service experts in Chicago warned Thursday.
Contributing: The Associated Press