Kansas City, Mo. (AP) — Much of the U.S. braced for a dangerous mix of sub-zero temperatures, howling winds and blizzards expected to disrupt the plans of millions of vacation travelers.
The storm of frigid weather began hammering into the Pacific Northwest Tuesday morning and is expected to move into the northern Rockies, then grip the plains in a freezing layer and blanket the Midwest in heavy snow, forecasters say. By Friday, the Arctic front is expected to spread the frigid cold as far south as Florida.
Authorities across the country are concerned about the possibility of power outages and warned people to take precautions to protect the elderly, the homeless and livestock — and postpone travel if possible.
In the northernmost regions of the US, chills can approach 70 degrees below zero (minus 57 degrees Celsius) — cold enough to freeze exposed skin in minutes.
Even states with warm weather are preparing for the worst. Texas officials hope to avoid a repeat of the February 2021 storm, which left millions without power, some for days. Temperatures in south central Florida were expected to drop to near freezing by the weekend.
The temperature drop will be steep. In Denver, the maximum will be around 50 degrees (10 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday; by Thursday it is expected to drop to about zero (minus 18 degrees Celsius).
The heaviest snow is expected in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, according to the National Weather Service, and freezing winds will be fierce in the center of the country.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of wind delays and a lot of snow delays as well,” said Bob Oravec, chief forecaster for the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.
The northwest already experienced the consequences on Tuesday. In Vancouver, Canada, authorities at the city’s YVR airport said conditions have led to an “unprecedented number of flight cancellations,” adding that cancellations and delays “will continue for most scheduled flights” and that deicing operations will continue as needed. to be. In Seattle, a combination of snow, rain and poor visibility caused nearly 200 flight cancellations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Greyhound canceled bus service between Seattle and Spokane, Washington.
In Oregon, one person died on Tuesday after a semi-truck collided with an SUV. According to the police, a thin layer of ice on the highway may have played a role.
Nearly 113 million Americans were expected to travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday season, up 4% from last year but still short of 2019’s record 119 million, according to AAA. Most planned to travel by car; about 6% planned to fly.
Several inches of snow were expected from Chicago through the Great Lakes region on Friday. Snow was also forecast in the lower Midwest. As the storm approaches, Delta, American, United and Southwest airlines said they are waiving change fees for people traveling through affected airports.
The National Weather Service predicted wind chill in Montana that could approach 60 degrees below zero (minus 51 degrees Celsius) by Thursday morning. Almost impossible, the forecast was even worse for parts of Wyoming. The 1,500-resident city of Lusk could experience chills of 70 degrees below zero (minus 57 degrees Celsius).
“Take precautions: check the elderly/vulnerable, protect pets, shelter livestock, cover exposed skin!” the local chapter of the National Weather Service said on Twitter.
Karina Jones’ family raises about 400 head of cattle in north-central Nebraska near Broken Bow, where chills down to 50 degrees below zero (minus 46 degrees Celsius) are expected on Thursday and Friday mornings. She said ranchers in Nebraska are “a warm-hearted bunch,” but the bitter cold is rough.
Ranchers “lie awake at night praying that you did everything you could for your livestock,” Jones said.
In Kansas, where up to four inches of snow is expected to bring chills down to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius), Shawn Tiffany runs three ranches with a combined population of about 35,000 cattle. He is concerned about keeping 40 employees safe and warm.
“Every conversation I’ve had over the past four days has been ‘Are you prepared and ready?’ Everyone takes it very seriously,” Tiffany said.
In Texas, where temperatures are expected to drop to about 11 degrees (minus 12 degrees Celsius), the state’s power grid will be put to the test once again.
A historic freeze in February 2021 led to one of the largest blackouts in US history, knocking out electricity to 4 million customers in Texas and killing hundreds.
Texas’ Electric Reliability Council, which manages the state’s power grid, said last week it expects to have enough generation to meet projected electricity demand during this week’s winter storm. The council said it has introduced reforms to increase reliability, including getting more generation online more quickly when needed and purchasing more reserve power.
But a report on the power grid ERCOT released last month said Texans could still face potential power outages this winter if an extreme storm causes a very high demand for electricity.
In Jackson, Mississippi, where dangerously cold weather is expected by the weekend, all eyes are on the capital’s troubled water system. A cold spell in 2021 left tens of thousands of people without running water after pipes froze, and Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said on Monday that the water distribution system remains a “massive vulnerability”.
The freezer will be especially dangerous for people without a home. Mayor Erin Mendenhall, a Democrat, said Salt Lake City will provide an additional 95 beds after five died in freezing temperatures in recent days.
In Kansas City, Missouri, emergency shelters are opening to anyone in need of warmth, food or safety. However, organizers warn that capacity is limited at night.
“We’re going to get as many as we can,” said Karl Ploeger, chief development officer of City Union Mission, a nonprofit Christian organization.
When the shelters are overcrowded at night, the mission tries to find alternatives for people together with other organizations.
Northern Florida cities such as Tallahassee can experience temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius (minus 3 degrees Celsius) on Fridays, Christmas Eve and Christmas nights. The forecast calls for temperatures near freezing as far south as Tampa.
Lozano reported from Houston and Funk reported from Omaha, Nebraska. Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon, Julie Walker in New York, Jeff Martin in Atlanta, Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit, Michael Goldberg in Jackson, Mississippi, Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana, and Sam Metz in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.