By Rich McKay and Gabriella Borter
(RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Arctic cold extended its grip on much of the United States on Friday, combining with snow, ice and howling winds from a deadly winter storm roaring off the Midwest to cut off energy supplies and hamper the travel of millions of Americans ahead of the holiday weekend.
Extreme winter weather, which has prompted city officials across the country to open heating centers in libraries and police stations as they scrambled to expand temporary shelters for the homeless, was blamed for at least five deaths on Friday.
A 50-vehicle rear-end collision on the Ohio Turnpike in a blizzard near Toledo killed two motorists, injured several others and blocked both lanes of the highway, state police said.
The stranded motorists were evacuated by bus to keep them from freezing in their cars in sub-zero temperatures, according to the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department.
Three weather-related deaths have been confirmed in neighboring Kentucky: two from car accidents and one from a homeless man who died of exposure.
“Please stay home and stay safe,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said on Twitter, announcing the deaths.
With frost stretching from Montana to Texas as it moved east, an estimated 240 million people — more than two-thirds of the U.S. population — were on winter weather alerts and alerts on Friday, the National Weather Service (NWS) said .
The Existing or Impending Winter Hazards Map “depicts one of the largest extensions of winter weather warnings and alerts ever,” the NWS said.
“I Guess It’s Cold Outside”
The coldest spot in the nation on Friday was the remote northern Montana town of Havre near the Canadian border, where the mercury had risen from a low of 38 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 39 degrees Celsius) to minus 20 just before noon, the NWS reported.
“It’s been colder, but yeah, I guess it’s cold outside,” acknowledged Tyler Schaub, the manager of the Rod’s Drive Inn, as he flipped the burgers on the grill. “We’re used to it, but again, it’s best not to stay out too long.”
The crippling cold intensified by strong winds extended across the Deep South to the U.S.-Mexico border, plunging wind chill factors into single-digit Fahrenheit (minus 18 to minus 13 degrees Celsius) in the border city of El Paso, Texas. Exposure to such conditions can cause frostbite within minutes.
Freeze advisories have been posted in southern Georgia and most of all four Gulf Coast states: Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
Farther north, the storm system produced blinding snow 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 pushed into New England, where wind-driven waves caused coastal flooding.
REFUGE, ENERGY, FLIGHTS
Extreme weather conditions have added to a humanitarian crisis in several cities facing an influx of migrants who have crossed the southern US border by the thousands in recent weeks and have no permanent shelter. Their plight has added to local agencies rushing to get people off the streets as the Arctic blast arrives.
Even the household routines and vacation plans of ordinary Americans were disrupted just days before Christmas.
With the nation’s energy systems strained by increased heat demand and storm damage to transmission lines, as many as 1.5 million U.S. homes and businesses were left without power on Friday, according to monitoring site Poweroutage. .us.
Heating and energy prices soared as inclement weather forced cuts in power generation and freezing cold drove up demand.
High winds, ice and snow disrupted commercial air traffic during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
More than 5,200 US flights were canceled on Friday, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Nearly 700 flights into or out of Seattle’s main airport were canceled as a separate storm system brought ice and freezing rain to the Pacific Northwest.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) had estimated that 112.7 million people planned to travel 50 miles (80km) or more from home between Friday and Jan. 2. That number was set to dwindle as bad weather complicated incoming air and road travel. the weekend.
The city of Buffalo and the surrounding county on the edge of Lake Erie in western New York have imposed a driving ban and all three border crossing bridges in the Buffalo area have been closed to inbound traffic since Canada due to bad weather.
“If there’s any good news, it’s that the storm moved quickly over some areas,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told MSNBC on Friday.
Even last-minute Christmas gift purchases can have little chance of reaching their destinations by Christmas.
FedEx, United Parcel Service, the United States Postal Service and Amazon.com all alerted customers that severe weather was disrupting key operations in Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Dakota and other areas hit hard by the bitter cold and blizzards of snow.
Meteorologists said the massive storm over the Midwest materialized into a “bomb cyclone,” a phenomenon caused by a dramatic and rapid drop in air pressure that forms a kind of cold hurricane.
While some areas downwind of the Great Lakes received a foot or more of snow Friday, “the big story wasn’t so much the snow falling but the snow blowing,” said Weather Service forecaster Brian Hurley.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gabriella Borter in New York; Writing and Additional Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional Reporting by Tim Reid, Lisa Baertlein, Erwin Seba, Susan Heavey, Laila Kearney, Alyson McClaren and Scott DiSavino; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Aleksandra Michalska, Aurora Ellis and William Mallard)