A powerful winter storm already blamed for fatal car crashes, widespread power outages and dangerously cold temperatures will keep pummeling the United States with freezing temperatures through Christmas Day.
The massive footprint of the winter weather and its timing during a busy holiday travel week makes the arctic blast particularly dangerous. The National Weather Service on Friday said its warnings and advisories covered about 200 million people — “one of the greatest extents of winter weather warnings and advisories ever,” forecasters said.
The dangers are highly localized and not limited to snowfall. Blizzard conditions created whiteouts and stranded motorists in the Buffalo, New York, area. But on the other side of the state, flooding was the concern, with water rescues in Queens, a New York City borough on Long Island.
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Meanwhile, bone-numbing wind chills extended throughout the country. Every state in the contiguous U.S. will experience minimum wind chills below freezing on Christmas or before, the weather service says.
The storm’s death toll quickly grew Friday night, with authorities in Ohio, Missouri and Kansas blaming weather for fatal crashes. In Ohio, dozens of vehicles were involved in a pileup that killed at least 4.
Only a few regions in the U.S. are expected to escape bitter cold over Christmas — parts of California, Oregon, Arizona and Florida are among the few spots in the nation that won’t experience wind chills below freezing, the weather service predicts.
Other impacts from the storm kept accumulating Friday. Power outage reports swelled up to over a million and thousands of flights were canceled amid a busy holiday travel season.
North Carolina, Tennessee and Maine reported the highest number of power outages Saturday.
In Tennessee, Memphis, Light, Gas and Water initiated rolling blackouts early Saturday to conserve electricity and keep the electric grid stable as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the struggling regional electricity provider, told its local power companies to shed electric load.
The outages, which last roughly 30 minutes, will not impact critical facilities like hospitals, airports, pumping stations and sewerage plants, the utility said.
“This is a challenging situation but one we are actively managing,” Don Moul, Tennessee Valley Authority’s chief operating officer, said in a video posted late Friday.
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.”
Some forecasters have said the storm’s danger doesn’t primarily come from the amount of snowfall — it’s a combination of snow, wind, ice and frigid temperatures that were concerning in many areas.
“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.
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The weather service office reported received numerous reports Friday night of people being stranded along roadways.
Not before Christmas.
Federal forecasters expect a huge mass of cold air to continue affecting the nation into next week. Those temperatures are a concern from the Dakotas to Florida even on Monday and Tuesday.
“Wind chills will still bottom out in the 20s and low 30s Monday and Tuesday morning for most locations in the South outside of south Florida,” a Friday forecast says.
But low temperatures are forecasters’ primary concern for most of the country by Monday. Flooding, rain and other hazards are only expected to affect more localized regions.
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.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Wyatte Grantham-Philips, USA TODAY. Samuel Hardiman, Memphis Commercial Appeal.