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.
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.
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What defines a blizzard? Heavy snow and high winds expected to sweep across country.
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.
The weather service reported Friday morning that as the “powerful” cold front headed toward the East Coast, many states saw temperatures more than 30 degrees colder than Thursday’s temperatures.
HOLIDAY TRAVEL:Over 2,200 US flights canceled amid storm
“This is not like a snow day when you were a kid,” President Joe Biden said after a briefing from federal officials Thursday. “This is serious stuff.”
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.
Meanwhile, governors in at least 12 states have declared emergency measures.
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 from 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 45+ vehicle Ohio pileup, other fatal crashes
Three 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 said Friday.
The crash occurred Friday morning on the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County.
“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 that four people died and many others were injured 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.
About 40% of all flights out of Seattle-Tacoma International and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airports had been canceled as of midday. Southwest Airlines’ schedule was affected the most, with nearly 800 flights taken off the schedule for the day.
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.
According to the weather service, winds gusting over 35 mph were creating blizzard conditions, including falling and blowing snow. The weather service also said temperatures were below zero in the south and in the teens up north.
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 more than 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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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.
Meanwhile, more than 36,000 Nashville Electric Company customers were without power as of about 12:15 p.m.
“Crews are doing everything they can to restore power,” the company tweeted. “They have been working around the clock.”
Chicagoans rush to prepare for snow
Kevin Doom, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chicago, said the area didn’t get a ton of snow overnight – maybe 1 to 3 inches.
“We didn’t get a whole lot of snow, but the wind combined with the snow, that’s really the concern,” he told USA TODAY. “And that continues on into today, even though we’re not really expecting much additional snowfall.”
The weather service was also seeing wind gusts close to 50 mph, so what little snow did fall was getting “blown around really easily,” Doom said.
What is wind chill?
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