A nearly week-long winter storm that devastated much of the United States has dropped temperatures to life-threatening lows, brought snowstorms and flooding and left more than a quarter million people without power on Christmas Day.
A snowstorm continues over the Great Lakes as freezing temperatures grip the eastern two-thirds of the United States and some major cities in the Southeast, Midwest and East Coast experience the coldest Christmas in decades.
Large areas of the central and eastern US remain on wind chill warnings and advisories as freeze warnings are in effect in the south.
New York City experienced record cold temperatures on Christmas Eve in several places, including JFK and LaGuardia airports. The high in Central Park was 15 degrees, marking the second coldest December 24 in at least 150 years National Weather Service.
At least 22 deaths have been attributed to dangerous weather conditions since Wednesday, and some residents in the North East are going on holiday without adequate heating or hot water as extremely cold temperatures persist.
In the US, 275,856 US homes and businesses were unplugged as of 1 a.m. ET, many in Maine and New York, according to PowerOutage.us. Since the storm began, the number of outages has at times exceeded one million customers.
An electric grid operator serving at least 13 states in the eastern half of the country urged customers to conserve electricity and set thermostats lower than usual from Saturday morning through 10 a.m. Sunday as usage was straining capacity.
Operator PJM Interconnection serves approximately 65 million people in all or portions of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, and warned that rolling blackouts could occur if the load gets too great.
In New York, utilities Con Edison and Natural Grid US also urged customers to conserve energy, citing extreme weather conditions and increased energy demands on interstate pipelines that bring natural gas to the city.
Meanwhile, a power shortage in Texas prompted the US Department of Energy to declare a state of emergency on Friday, allowing the state’s electric utility to exceed environmental emissions standards until energy use drops.
In Jackson, Mississippi, freezing temperatures are hampering efforts to repair a major water main burst late Saturday, which has resulted in a loss of water pressure for residents, city officials said.
“We are grateful to the crews who are braving these cold temperatures this Christmas Eve night while working to restore pressure on residents. Your sacrifice will not go unnoticed and will be appreciated not only by this administration but also by every resident affected,” the statement said.
The brutal weather conditions have also made travel difficult over the busy bank holiday weekend, with more than 5,000 flights canceled on Friday, more than 3,400 flights on Saturday and more than 1,000 canceled for Christmas Day.
Road conditions were no better in parts of the country with whiteout conditions and icy and snow covered lanes.
In New York’s Erie County — which is rife with blistering snowstorms — about 500 motorists were stranded in their vehicles from Friday night through Saturday morning, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz, despite the county’s driving ban being imposed during the storm.
National Guard troops have been called in to help “rescue people stuck in vehicles” and take medical personnel with them so they can relieve colleagues who have been working in hospitals for more than a day, Poloncarz said.
In Seattle, Washington, online videos have documented cars skidding and colliding on the icy streets and residents slipping while walking on sidewalks, CNN affiliate KOMO reported.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she will ask the federal government for a declaration of emergency after a severe winter storm.
“I will be asking the federal government for a declaration of emergency that will allow us to seek reimbursement for the extraordinary costs of all the overtime and the fact that we enlisted each other for help from other parts of the state,” Hochul told reporters Saturday. “We used individuals – the supply crews came, but also made sure we have all the vehicles we need.”
The three New York storm-related deaths were reported in Erie County. Two died in separate incidents on Friday night when emergency medical personnel could not get to their homes in time for medical emergencies, Poloncarz said Saturday morning. Details of the third death, which was confirmed by a county spokesman Saturday afternoon, were not immediately available.
“The loss of two lives in Buffalo — due to storms — because people were unable to reach medical supplies is yet another crisis unfolding before your eyes, and you realize that life-saving ambulances and emergency medical personnel are unable to get to people during a snowstorm can situation,” added Hochul.
More storm-related deaths were reported in the country. They include:
• Colorado: Police in Colorado Springs, Colo., have reported two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with a man found near a building’s power transformer who may have been searching for heat, and another in a warehouse in an alley.
• Kansas: Three people have died in weather-related traffic accidents, the Kansas Highway Patrol said on Friday.
• Kentucky: Three people have died in the state, officials said, including one in a vehicle accident in Montgomery County.
• Missouri: One person died after a trailer rolled off an icy road into a frozen creek, Kansas City Police Department said.
• Ohio: Eight people have died as a result of weather-related car accidents, including four in a crash Saturday morning on Interstate 75 when a tractor-trailer truck crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup truck, authorities said.
• Tennessee: The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed one death related to the storm on Friday.
• Wisconsin: The Wisconsin State Patrol reported one fatal accident Thursday due to winter weather.
In pictures: Winter storm hits US
The storm system is forecast to gradually weaken as it moves up into southeastern Canada, moving slowly over the next few days and drawing arctic air out of Canada into much of the east side of the country.
The Arctic blast, which is being felt across the nation’s eastern two-thirds, will slowly subside through Monday, but dangerous conditions will persist into Christmas Day.
The cold temperatures combined with dangerous wind chills pose a potentially life-threatening hazard for stranded travelers, people working outdoors, livestock and pets, according to the National Weather Service.
“In some areas, being outdoors can cause frostbite in minutes,” the weather service warned.
As cold air continues to blast the warm waters of the Great Lakes, lake-effect snow and blizzards are expected to persist but slowly become less intense.
Still, strong gusty winds initially up to 60 miles per hour accompanying snow downwind from the Great Lakes will continue to make for extremely hazardous conditions on the road.
According to the weather service, another low pressure area from the Pacific will deliver the next surge of moisture towards the northwest Pacific and then to northern California on Christmas night to Monday.