Resilience Natural Disasters

Four things to know about the freezing temperatures and storms hitting the country

This satellite image made available by NOAA shows cloud cover over North America on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022 at 1:31 p.m. An arctic blast is bringing extreme cold, heavy snow and intense wind across much of the U.S. this week — just in time for the holidays. (NOAA via AP)

Story at a glance

  • The storm brings dangerously low temperatures and frozen precipitation to wide areas.

  • Millions are under winter weather and blizzard warnings.

  • The system has created major disruptions for Christmas travelers.

A major winter storm is bringing record cold temperatures and winter weather to much of the continental U.S., leading to significant disruptions ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Temperatures have plunged to well below zero on Thursday in some areas, and millions are under weather advisories as the storm plagues everything from travel to electricity.

“A major and anomalous storm system is forecast to produce a multitude of weather hazards through early this weekend, as heavy snowfall, strong winds, and dangerously cold temperatures span from the northern Great Basin through the Plains, Upper Midwest, Great Lakes, and the northern/central Appalachian,” the National Weather Service (NWS) said in a forecast early Thursday morning.

President Biden was briefed on the storm on Thursday morning, calling it “dangerous” and “threatening.”

“This is not like a snow day when you were a kid,” Biden said. “This is serious stuff.”

Here’s what to know about the storm:

Temperatures fall well below zero in the Plains

Millions of Americans are facing dangerously low temperatures as the storm system allows cold, Arctic air to creep into the U.S.

NWS indicates temperatures in areas across the central High Plains plummeted 50 degrees in just a few hours, bringing widespread sub-zero temperature readings throughout the region and the northern Rockies.

Sustained winds in those areas have reached between 20 and 30 miles per hour, with wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour leading to wind chills as low as 40 degrees below zero in some places.

Daytime temperatures will likely not rise above zero degrees in some areas of the Plains on Thursday.

“Wind chills of this magnitude can cause frostbite in less than 5 minutes if precautions are not taken, with hypothermia and death also possible from prolonged exposure to the cold,” NWS wrote in its forecast. “Livestock interests will also be severely impacted and dangers could be exacerbated if power outages occur.”

NWS has issued wind chill warnings, watches and advisories for residents in more than 30 states, spanning from Washington to Florida.

Millions under winter weather, blizzard warnings

Significant portions of the Midwest have been placed under winter weather and blizzard warnings, with some areas expected to see more than a foot of snow.

As of Thursday morning, the system has already brought snow bands stretching from Wisconsin to Oklahoma, and the NWS forecasts that snow squalls lasting one to two hours are likely to continue occuring behind the front, trekking from the mid-Mississippi Valley to the East Coast.

“Developing snow squalls could lead to extremely hazardous travel conditions at times, as they will be accompanied by gusts to 40 mph and the potential for sudden whiteout conditions,” NWS said in its forecast.

The snowfall is especially precarious for areas near the Great Lakes, with forecasts of more than a foot of snow to fall in northern Michigan, where residents are under blizzard warnings.

As the system progresses, the storm could bring dangerous coastal flooding along the East Coast stretching from Maine to the mid-Atlantic, according to NWS.

Christmas travelers see disruptions

The storm system has already begun to cause disruptions to mass transit, which comes amid one of the busiest travel periods of the year ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Many airlines have announced travel waivers to encourage passengers to rebook their travel for once the storm passes, and more than 2,500 U.S.-based flights have been canceled on Thursday and Friday, according to flight-tracking service Flight Aware.

“We had a great Thanksgiving week with minimal disruptions,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to be that way heading into Christmas.”

Amtrak has also made several service changes and cancelations through Christmas Day.

“These actions are taken in an abundance of caution and in consultation with state transportation departments, host railroads, emergency managers, and weather forecasters,” Amtrak said in a statement.

Companies warn of power outages

NWS has warned of potential power outages, indicating the combination of strong winds, heavy snow and other frozen precipitation can cause damage to infrastructure.

Evergy said the storm has already caused about 12,000 power outages in Kansas and Missouri, with most in the Wichita metro area.

“Our line crews are out working to restore power as fast and safely as possible,” the company wrote on Twitter.

Other companies like Duke Energy, which serves 7.4 million customers in Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio and the Carolinas.

“As Duke Energy meteorologists are tracking this significant winter weather event, crews are preparing to restore power as safely and quickly as possible,” Anthony Brown, Duke Energy’s Midwest storm director, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our top priority is to keep our customers informed and urge them to prepare in advance.”

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