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 three deaths and has produced temperatures so cold that a Montana National Weather Service office said one of its thermometers stopped working. The Elk Park, Montana, temperature sensor hit its lowest temperature: minus 50 degrees, the weather service office said Thursday.
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.
Over 175 million people, more than half the nation’s population, face dangerous wind chills in the days leading up to Christmas, according to Thursday night weather service data that tracks wind chill warnings and advisories. Governors across the country declared states of emergencies in response to the severe weather.
What defines a blizzard? Heavy snow and high winds expected to sweep across country.
Dozens of states reported significant, record breaking temperature plunges with some areas plummeting 50 degrees. 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.
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“This is not like a snow day when you were a kid,” said President Joe Biden after a briefing from federal officials Thursday. “This is serious stuff.” Thursday, the cold front moved through the central U.S. toward the east, wreaking havoc on holiday travel plans as thousands of flights were canceled.
A bomb cyclone was predicted to develop late Thursday into Friday near the Great Lakes, which is expected to worsen blizzard conditions.
As of about 8 a.m., snow was falling across the Great Lakes where Winter Storm Elliott was intensifying into a likely bomb cyclone, bringing high winds, snow and blizzard conditions from the Northern Plains to western and upstate New York, the weather service reported.
Bomb cyclones are intense winter storms with high winds, heavy blizzards and sub-zero temperatures created through a process known as bombogenesis.
Bombogenesis is a weather term that combines “bomb” and “cyclogenesis,” the creation of a cyclone. While bomb cyclones can happen in cold or warm months, they receive the most attention in winter.
Bomb cyclones are powerful winter storms:Here’s a visual breakdown of how they’re created.
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 is also seeing wind gusts close to 50 miles per hour, so what little snow did fall yesterday is getting “blown around really easily,” Doom said.
In Texas, more than 77,000 people were without power Friday morning.
CenterPoint Energy reported the most outages across the state. As of 6:45 a.m. CT, more than 21,000 customers were in the dark.
The energy company said it would work to restore service as soon as possible.
Just over 20,000 Oncor customers were impacted by the blast, a majority of them in Dallas. The power company wrote on its website that thousands of electrical facilities, including stations and main feeder lines, underwent thorough air and ground inspections Thursday to prepare for high demand and cold temperatures.
“Our crews are ready to respond and will work around the clock to get the lights back on as quickly and safely as possible – even on holidays,” the power company wrote.
Neighbors assist each other in Iowa
In Iowa, the National Weather Service predicted storm weather Thursday night and Friday will intensify, with an “explosive deepening” of the storm’s low-pressure system Friday night.
“For Iowa, this means winds will be stronger tonight and Friday (than) they have been so far,” an advisory said.
Far from the storm’s disruptions to airports, highways and city bustle, life went on pretty much as usual despite the cold and snow in the rural western Iowa town of Soldier, where it’s typical for neighbors to help each other out amid winter storms.
That means residents moving from house to house, clearing driveways and sidewalks after a big storm, putting together church potlucks and making sure those who need a trip to the doctor have rides.
“We’re a little town, so we come together whenever there’s a need. Not just when there’s a winter storm,” said Patty Jensen, president of Soldier Lutheran Church’s council.
— The Des Moines Register
How are officials responding to severe weather conditions?
Governors in at least 12 states have declared emergency measures and other cold weather efforts in response to the storm and its hazardous conditions.
Colorado: On Tuesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis activated over 100 state National Guard members to help assist with “extreme cold weather operations” across the state, according to a news release.
Connecticut: Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont activated the state’s severe cold weather protocol in response to potential below-zero wind chills for Friday to Monday, according to a news release. Lamont also activated the state’s emergency operations center in anticipation of the rain storm over the holiday weekend.
Georgia: On Wednesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency and warned the public to prepare for freezing weather, according to a news release.
Kentucky: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Wednesday ahead of the arctic front that was forecast to bring a flash freeze and extremely cold temperatures across the state, according to a news release.
Maryland: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that the state activated its emergency response operations in preparation of the winter storm, according to a news release.
Missouri: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order Tuesday to activate the state’s emergency operations plan against the extreme cold. According to a news release, the declaration will “ensure state resources are available and National Guard members are on standby for any needed response efforts across the state.”
North Carolina: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a state of emergency Tuesday to activate the state’s emergency operations. “We know that with the extremely low temperatures North Carolinians will need propane and other heating fuel to keep their families warm,” Cooper said in a statement.
New York: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency Thursday ahead of the winter storm. “Heavy rain and snow, strong winds, coastal and lakeshore flooding and flash freezing are all possible in various regions across the state throughout the holiday weekend,” a news release from Hochul’s office states.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency Wednesday for all 77 counties ahead of the storm which temporarily suspends requirements for size and weights permits of oversized vehicles transporting materials and supplies used for emergency relief and power restoration, according to a news release.
West Virginia: West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of preparedness for all 55 counties in the state and declared Friday as a full-holiday for public employees ahead of the storm, according to a news release.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order declaring an energy emergency in the state due to weather. “Due to the below-average temperatures, accumulating and blowing snow throughout the state, deliveries of liquid fuels for home heating shipped by truck, barge, and particularly rail, are limited,” a news release from Evers’ office states.
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