A wild winter storm continued to envelop much of the United States on Christmas Eve, bringing record-breaking low temperatures for 200 million Americans, blinding blizzards, freezing rain and flooding.
The storm that arrived earlier in the week is nearly unprecedented in scope, some 2,000 miles wide and stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border.
Even the tiny town of Hell, Michigan, has officially frozen over after temperatures plummeted Friday night to minus 50 degrees. A local bartender told the BBC: ‘It’s pretty cold here, but we’re having a hell of a time.’ Meanwhile, Seattle has turned into a giant ice skating rink, with videos showing cars and residents sliding about the streets.
The storm has also downed power lines across the nation, leaving around two million Americans without electricity. North Carolina alone has seen more than 400,000 outages and further rolling power cuts are expected on Christmas day. At least 23 people are so-far confirmed to have died.
Highways are littered with piles of wrecked cars after whiteout conditions caused deadly accidents. At least 19 people have lost their lives as a result of the brutal weather, latest figures show.
The scene in Hell, Michigan, on December 23, taken at Screams, a tourist destination in the town
Temperatures are forecast to top out on Friday at just 8 degrees Fahrenheit in Pittsburgh, the largest city in western Pennsylvania, surpassing its previous all-time coldest Christmas Eve at 13 F, set in 1983, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
The capital cities of Florida and Georgia – Tallahassee and Atlanta – are also expected to record their coldest daytime Christmas Eve temperatures, while Washington, D.C., was forecast to see its chilliest Dec. 24 since 1906.
Nearly 10,000 flights in the US were delayed or canceled on Christmas Eve, according to tracking site FlightAware. Travelers have been forced to sleep on airport floors overnight, with many now unable to get home for the holidays.
Many families may also be waking up on Christmas morning to find there are no presents after FedEx issued a warning on its website that said guaranteed delivery dates previously promised may not be met due ‘substantial’ weather disruptions, particularly at hubs in Indianapolis and Memphis. Amazon is also predicting delays.
Around 60 percent of the U.S. population face some sort of winter weather advisory or warning after temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.
Freezing rain coated much of the Pacific Northwest in a layer of ice, while people in the Northeast faced the threat of coastal and inland flooding.
A family in Buffalo woke up to this wall of snow at their front door on Christmas Eve. Around 60 percent of Americans are under some sort of weather warning going into the holidays
A view of a car covered in snow after heavy snowfall in Regent, North Dakota
Garrett Fuller, left, helps friend Robin Jacobs get up after slipping to the icy ground on Capitol Hill in Seattle on Friday
In response to the inclement weather, President Joe Biden said: ‘This is a really serious weather alert. Please take this storm extremely seriously.’
The NWS warned: ‘In some areas, being outdoors could lead to frostbite in minutes.’
Erie County, in Western New York, is experiencing some of the most extreme weather. ‘This storm will likely at least jump near the top of the list of worst blizzards in the city’s history, if not even becoming the worst,’ AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sojda said.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said two people died in the area following medical emergencies because first responders could not get to them in time.
Poloncarz later said that due to the storm, which left vehicles strewn across roads, emergency services vehicles could not get out to the worst hit areas in Buffalo, Cheektowaga, the Town of Tonawanda, the Village of Kenmore, Lancaster, Amherst, Clarence, and Williamsville.
A public service ad pleaded for anybody with a snow mobile to come forward to help emergency services.
In the county, a driving ban was put in place, as New York State traffic cameras show the lack of visibility in the area. In Buffalo, city officials canceled the Buffalo Sabres home game with the Tampa Bay Lightening.
During a CNN broadcast, a bizarre moment occurred when reporter Polo Sandoval was barely visible on camera due to the whiteout conditions in Buffalo.
Buffalo-based meteorologist Dan Russell said: ‘I’ve covered many winter weather stormz through the years. This is about, if not the worst I’ve ever seen!’
Colleen Darby, 59, of Williamsville outside Buffalo, says she had planned to host a Christmas party for family and friends, but the storm will keep her and her daughter at home with a refrigerator full of food.
‘I’ve never seen the likes of this kind of storm,’ said Darby, a lifelong resident of the area. ‘I can’t even get out of my house, right now. The snow is up to my chest. You can’t even walk through it because it’s so heavy and thick.’
Plows work to clear ice and snow along the Lake Erie shoreline in upstate New York
Ice covers the shoreline around Lake Erie in Hamburg, New York, as winter storm Elliot struck
Downtown Buffalo seen on December 23, an AccuWeather meteorologist has said that the storm is likely to worsen in the area
A public service advert has asked anybody with a snowmobile to come forward to aid emergency services in Erie County, New York
The white out conditions in the Buffalo area. Local meteorologist Dan Russell said: ‘I’ve covered many winter weather storms through the years. This is about, if not the worst I’ve ever seen!’
A shocking video showed the moment a roof collapsed amid high winds at a hotel in New Hampshire as debris crashed on to a car
Vehicles move along a highway in Louisville, Kentucky, under freezing temperatures
The storm that arrived earlier in the week downed power lines, littered highways with piles of cars in deadly accidents and led to mass flight cancellations
Firefighters with the Detroit Fire Department try to remove ice from their fire hoses while fighting a warehouse fire
A 50-car pile-up was reported in Ohio, causing at least four fatalities. The crashes happened Friday afternoon along Interstate 80 eastbound between Route 53 and State Route 4 in Sandusky County, near Groton Township and the Erie County line
The frigid temperatures and gusty winds were expected to produce ‘dangerously cold wind chills across much of the central and eastern U.S. this holiday weekend,’ the weather service said, adding that the conditions ‘will create a potentially life-threatening hazard for travelers that become stranded.’
Multiple highways were closed and crashes claimed at least six lives, officials said. Four people died in a massive pileup involving some 50 vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike.
POWER CUTS HIT 1.5M ON CHRISTMAS EVE
Power outages as of 9am on Saturday:
Region – Outages
- South East 655,428
- New England 391,272
- South 373,922
- Mid-Atlantic 226,828
- Great Lakes 19,788
- Pacific 15,921
- Territories 6,811
- MidWest 2,591
- Mountain 212
The crashes happened Friday afternoon along Interstate 80 eastbound between Route 53 and State Route 4 in Sandusky County, near Groton Township and the Erie County line.
Calling it a ‘kitchen sink storm,’ New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency. In parts of New York City, tidal flooding inundated roads, homes and businesses Friday morning.
New York City saw high winds, and flooding in some areas. Parts of Brooklyn and Queens were experiencing blackouts.
Phoenix Phung, a traveler in New York’s LaGuardia Airport told CBS New York: ‘They told me no flights through Southwest today or tomorrow, so I’m just going to head home I guess.’
Another traveler, Quanasia Smith, who was flying to meet a cruise ship told the station: ‘Our ship is leaving tomorrow so we have no choice. If we miss it, we miss it, Christmas is canceled.’
On Saturday morning, Southwest Airlines said in a statement that they are in a ‘State of Operational Emergency.’
Power operator PJM has ordered residents in 13 states to conserve electricity including Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Rolling blackouts were being initiated by power companies in Tennessee and Mississippi.
Ohio’s provider, AEP warned customers that they have to reduce usage or face rolling blackouts on Christmas Day.
In anticipation of the storm, northern Michigan couple David and Kathy Coveyou said they cooked their holiday food ahead of time in case they lost power.
David told the New York Times: ‘No matter what comes, we’re going to be enjoying it, and there’s so much beauty up here with the snow. We might lose power but we’re going to have an absolutely wonderful Christmas.’
The American Automobile Association had estimated that 112.7 million people planned to venture 50 miles or more from home between Friday and Jan. 2. But stormy weather heading into the weekend likely ended up keeping many of them at home.
The severe weather prompted authorities across the country to open warming centers in libraries and police stations, while scrambling to expand temporary shelter for the homeless. The challenge was compounded by the influx of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border by the thousands in recent weeks.
The fountain is frozen as temperatures hovered in the mid 20’s at Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home in New Orleans
In Oklahoma, a woman took a photo of water freezing straight from her tap in McAlester, 100 miles east of Oklahoma City
Surf’s up! A surfer defies the weather and takes to Lake Erie in western New York amid the frigid temperatures
A traffic light crashed to the ground in Rochester, New York, as the winds continued to barrel through the area
In a bleak interview with CNN, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said: ‘Remember your loved ones care more about having you alive and that next Christmas than whether you can make this one. People need to stay off the roads. … Being together is more important than ever, but staying safe is even more important than that.
A Kansas City, Missouri, a driver was killed Thursday after skidding into a creek, and three others died Wednesday in separate crashes on icy northern Kansas roads.
While in McAlester, Oklahoma, a woman’s water froze as soon as it left the tap.
In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights Friday at Toronto Pearson International Airport, as meteorologists there warned of a potential once-in-a-decade weather event.
While in Mexico, migrants camped near the US border in unusually cold temperatures as they awaited a U.S. Supreme Court decision on pandemic-era restrictions that prevent many from seeking asylum.
Forecasters said a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — had developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.
Icicles hang from ornamental plants at sunrise on Christmas Eve on December 24
Icicles cling to strawberry plants at a field in Plant City. Even people in Florida were braced for unusually chilly weather as rare freeze warnings were issued for large parts of the state over the holiday weekend
Steam rises off of the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee, as temperatures continue to plummet
Even people in Florida were braced for unusually chilly weather as rare freeze warnings were issued for large parts of the state over the holiday weekend.
Volunteers were rushing to get homeless people out of the cold. Nearly 170 adults and children were keeping warm early Friday in Detroit at a shelter designed to hold 100 people.
How to stay warm and what to do if the power goes out:
How to stay warm during a winter storm:
1. Keep all doors to the outside closed, and use towels to block drafts from windows and door cracks
2. Insulate windows with black blankets or place blanket on the floor where the sun is directly shining
3. Run a bathtub of hot water Turn faucets to a trickle to prevent pipes from freezing
3. Don’t rely on gas stoves, charcoal grills or other open-flame heat sources as carbon monoxide gas may build up in your home – be aware of fuel fumes while trying to make a hot meal
6. Place any generators outside, away from doors, windows and vents
7. Limit non-emergency phone call
In Dallas, volunteers distributed blankets to 1,000 people in the city’s homeless community.
‘This is a lot of extra people’ but it wasn’t an option to turn anyone away, said Faith Fowler, the executive director of Cass Community Social Services, which runs both facilities.
Emergency weather shelters in Portland, Oregon, called for volunteers amid high demand and staffing issues as snow, freezing rain, ice and frigid temperatures descended upon the area.
The flurry of yuletide temperature records were predicted as a U.S. deep freeze was sharpened by perilous wind chills. Freezing rain and ice from a separate storm in the Pacific Northwest made travel treacherous there as well on Friday.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said she was deploying the National Guard to haul timber to the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes and help with snow removal.
‘We have families that are way out there that we haven’t heard from in two weeks,’ said Wayne Boyd, chief of staff to the Rosebud Sioux president.
On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Harlie Young was huddled with five children and her father around a wood stove as 12-foot snow drifts blocked the house.
‘We’re just trying to look on the bright side that they’re still coming and they didn’t forget us,’ she said Friday.
In Boston, rain combined with a high tide, flooded some downtown streets on Friday. Around 10:30 pm, six people were hospitalized following a crash in Lakeville, Massachusetts. Two of the six people were said to have serious injuries.
Along Interstate 71 in Kentucky, Terry Henderson and her husband, Rick, were stuck in a massive traffic jam caused by several accidents for 34 hours.
The truck drivers weathered the wait in a rig outfitted with a diesel heater, a toilet and a refrigerator but nonetheless regretted trying to drive from Alabama to their home near Akron, Ohio, for Christmas.
‘I wish we should have stayed,’ said Terry Henderson, after they got moving again Saturday. ‘We should have sat.’
As millions of Americans were traveling ahead of Christmas, more than 10,000 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were canceled or delayed Friday, according to the tracking site FlightAware
In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights Friday at Toronto Pearson International Airport, as meteorologists there warned of a potential once-in-a-decade weather event
Forecasters said a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — had developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow
Thomas Dameron, 36, hugs his 3 month-old puppy Rello at an emergency shelter for homeless inside Action Church in north Georgia, as temperatures plummeted to 8 degree
An outreach worker delivers supplies to people living in a homeless camp in Louisville
Crews remove tarps that covered the field overnight before an NFL football game between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans
The Tennessee Titans postponed Saturday’s kickoff against the Houston Texans by one hour at the request of Nashville mayor John Cooper over concerns about the city’s power grid amid frigid temperatures in the region.
Cooper made his request with only hours to spare ahead of kickoff, which was scheduled for 1pm EST and 12pm local time. The game will now kickoff at 2pm EST. Rolling blackouts have been planned by the Tennessee Valley Authority to ease the demands currently overwhelming the area’s power grid.
‘Due to the extreme weather and power outages affecting our region, kickoff for today’s game has been postponed one hour to 1pm CT,’ read a team statement. ‘This decision was made in partnership with the NFL, Office of Emergency Management, Nashville Electric Service and the Mayor’s Office in an abundance of caution to ensure that the game would not negatively impact our community in any way.
‘We are exploring every possibility to minimize non-essential power around the stadium. Gates are currently open and fans are welcome to enter.
Near Rockaway Beach in Queens, chunks of a dead sperm whale that washed up on the shore were driven onto the streets.
‘In one of those ‘Only in Rockaway’ scenarios, it appears parts of the sperm whale that was necropsied last week, is now on Rockaway Beach Blvd and Beach 116th Street,’ tweeted one local. ‘Can’t make this up.’
The 32-foot female whale washed up on December 13 and surfers and local authorities tried to return her to the ocean, but she died before she reached the open water.
Her carcass was chopped up for transportation, but slabs of whale meat were blown onto the streets on Friday by the wind and waves.
A Buffalo couple enjoys a barbecue dinner and beer amid a blizzard
Meanwhile a couple in the area, clad in Bills branded swag, went viral as the enjoyed a barbecue and beer in the subzero conditions.
WHAT IS A BOMB CYCLONE?
A bomb cyclone is a large midlatitude storm that intensifies quickly, bringing heavy snow, rain, high winds and coastal flooding. Midlatitude is a temperate zone north of the tropics that includes the entire continental US.
The name comes from the meteorological term ‘bombogenesis,’ or ‘explosive cyclogenesis,’ when a storm system’s central pressure drops at least 24 millibars within 24 hours.
A study found in 69 percent of cases, bomb cyclones frequently happened from December to February and early March.
The US Eastern Seaboard is one of the regions where bombogenesis is most common because storms in the midlatitudes draw their energy from large temperature contrasts.