UNITED STATES: On Friday, Arctic cold extended its grasp over much of the US, blending with snow and ice and howling breezes from a major winter storm that surged out of the Great Lakes to disrupt travel for millions of Americans ahead of the holiday weekend and cause power outages throughout a sizable chunk of the nation.
The brutal winter cold, which prompted local officials around the country to build warming centres in libraries and police stations while hurrying to offer temporary shelter for the homeless, was blamed for at least five casualties on Friday.
Near Toledo, a 50-vehicle pileup on the Ohio Turnpike during a blizzard resulted in the deaths of two drivers, the injuries of countless others, and the closure of both lanes of the highway, as reported by state police.
According to the Toledo Fire & Rescue Department, stranded drivers were transported by bus to avoid having them freeze in their vehicles during the below-freezing weather.
In the neighbouring state of Kentucky, three weather-related fatalities have been reported—two were car accidents and one was an exposed homeless person.
“Please stay home and stay safe,” tweeted Andy Beshear, the governor of Kentucky, announcing the fatalities.
Over two-thirds of Americans, or 240 million people, were under winter weather warnings and advisories on Friday as the deep chill spread eastward from Montana to Texas, said the National Weather Service (NWS).
The NWS said that the map of current or approaching winter dangers “depicts one of the highest extents of winter weather alerts and advisories ever.”
The remote northern Montana town of Havre, which is close to the Canadian border, had the nation’s coldest temperature on Friday.
The mercury rose from a low of 38 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 39 degrees Celsius) to minus 20 just before midday, as reported by the NWS.
High winds and numbing cold carried through the Deep South to the border between the United States and Mexico, with wind chill factors in El Paso, Texas, the border city, falling to single digits Fahrenheit (minus 18 to minus 13 Celsius). Frostbite can develop within minutes of exposure to such circumstances.
Southern Georgia and large portions of the four Gulf Coast states—Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida—had hard freeze warnings posted.
Greater amounts of blinding snow were produced by the storm system farther north, from the northern Plains and Great Lakes region to the upper Mississippi Valley, the Ohio Valley, western New York state, and the northern and central Appalachian mountains.
The storm front moved into New England, where wind-driven waves resulted in coastal flooding.
Demand for shelter and energy rises
As a result of the surge of migrants who have recently crossed the southern border of the United States in large numbers and are in need of permanent housing, there is now a humanitarian crisis in many towns.
Their hardship has made it more difficult for neighbourhood organisations to remove people from the streets as the cold blast approaches.
Just a few days before Christmas, the household routines and holiday preparations of regular Americans were also disturbed.
According to the tracking website Poweroutage.us, as many as 1.5 million U.S. homes and businesses were without power on Friday due to the nation’s energy systems being stressed by the nation’s growing demand for heat and by storm-related damage to transmission lines.
Due to reduced energy production due to the bad weather and increased demand from the bitter cold, heating and energy prices increased.
Intense winds, ice, and snow affected one of the busiest travel seasons of the year, causing a disruption in commercial flight traffic.
On Friday, more than 5,200 domestic flights within the United States were cancelled, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. A distinct storm system brought ice and freezing rain to the Pacific Northwest, cancelling close to 700 flights into or out of Seattle’s major airport.
As per weather forecasts, the intense storm over the Midwest had developed into a “bomb cyclone”—a phenomenon brought on by a sudden, sharp drop in atmospheric pressure that creates a type of cold-weather hurricane.
Although some regions in the Great Lakes’ downwind region experienced a foot or more of snowfall on Friday, “the main story wasn’t so much the falling snow as the blowing snow,” said Brian Hurley, a weather service meteorologist.