DETROIT, December 22 (Reuters) – A dangerously cold arctic air mass blanketed large swathes of the United States on Thursday, as a looming winter storm of historic proportions threatened to disrupt the travel plans of millions of Americans.
The approaching storm is expected to bring blizzard conditions to the Great Lakes region over the holiday weekend, with heavy rain followed by a flash freeze on the East Coast, wind gusts of 60 mph (100 km/h) and bitter cold in the South. like the Mexican border.
A weather phenomenon known as a bomb cyclone is likely to develop from a “rapidly deepening low pressure” system as a storm forms over the Great Lakes on Thursday, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
The cyclone could bring an inch-and-a-half (1.25 cm) of snow per hour and gusty winds from the Midwest to the Northeast, with near-zero visibility, the weather service said.
Along with the arctic cold, wind and chill factors were forecast as low as 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 40 Celsius) in the High Plains, northern Rockies and Great Basin, the NWS said. Such conditions can cause frostbite within minutes without proper protection.
Power outages are likely due to high winds, heavy snow and ice, along with increased energy demand, and the storm is expected to make travel nearly impossible at times.
The extreme cold posed a particular risk to livestock in a region where a lot of farming is done. Tyson Foods Inc ( TSN.N ), the world’s top meat maker by sales, said it has scaled back operations to protect workers and animals.
“It’s dangerous and it’s dangerous,” President Joe Biden said at the White House, urging Americans planning to travel not to delay and leave Thursday. “It’s not like a snow day when you were a kid, it’s serious.”
By afternoon, well over half of the Lower 48 states, from Washington state to Florida, were under wind and other winter weather warnings, affecting more than 200 million people, or about 60% of the U.S. population, the weather service said.
The NWS’s border-to-border and coast-to-coast weather hazard map for Thursday “depicts one of the largest winter warnings and advisories ever,” the agency said.
A ‘WHITE’ CHRISTMAS
A storm front east of the Plains and Great Lakes could bring more than 1 foot of snow to some areas, meteorologist Ashton Cook said. A snow flurry was expected from Illinois to Indiana and could lead to whiteout conditions.
The American Automobile Association estimates that from December 23 until January 2 112.7 million of people planned to travel 50 miles (80 km) or more from home, which is 3.6 million.
More than 4,500 U.S. flights scheduled for Thursday and Friday were canceled, with more than 1,200 canceled at Chicago’s two largest airports, according to flight tracking service FlightAware.
“They’re ruining Christmas,” Nadia Dickens, 42, a management company worker in Gallatin, Tennessee, said Thursday after her flight from Nashville was wiped.
She’s headed to Corpus Christi, Texas, for a Christmas Day family gathering, where she looks forward to making tamales with her 94-year-old grandmother. Dickens booked another flight to Austin, Texas, when a relative offered to drive four hours to take her to a family reunion, but she remained pessimistic.
“We’re going to get an inch of snow overnight and the weather is going to be terrible everywhere,” she said.
A cold air mass that first enveloped the northern states moved south through central Oklahoma and northwest Texas, where the mercury dropped into the single digits on Thursday.
Hundreds of Texans Killed in 2021 in February, when the state’s power grid went down during winter storms, leaving millions without power. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which has since worked to protect its grid, “believes there will be sufficient generation at this time to meet projected demand,” spokeswoman Christy Penders said.
The NWS predicted temperatures in the southern Plains and Southeast could remain below freezing for several days, 30-plus degrees below normal.
Greg Carbin, forecast operations manager for the NWS Weather Forecast Center in Maryland, said freezing or below-freezing temperatures will split central Florida, with temperatures about 25 degrees below normal.
Drivers in the Ohio and Tennessee valleys were warned that wet roads could freeze overnight as temperatures drop.
The NWS also warned of freezing rain for parts of northwestern Oregon and Washington, where a separate storm formed Thursday.
Georgia joined North Carolina and Kentucky in declaring a state of emergency on Wednesday. Temperatures are forecast to reach 10 F (minus 12 C) in northern Georgia with wind chills.
“We’re expecting weather like we haven’t seen in a decade or more,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said at a media briefing.
Brandon Mattis, 24, said his flight from New York to Atlanta was canceled Thursday because of the approaching storm, leaving him “freaked out” at LaGuardia Airport in Queens.
Mattis said he looked into alternative routes and even considered taking a bus to Atlanta at 9 p.m.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get there,” he said.
Reporting by Tyler Clifford in Detroit and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman, Laila Kearney, Lisa Baertlein, Julia Harte, Nandita Bose, Scott DiSavino, Tom Polansek and PJ Huffstutter; edited by Jonathan Oatis, Sandra Maler and Shri Navaratnam
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