Hundreds of thousands of Americans wake up in the dark to unlit trees on Christmas Eve after destructive winds and heavy snow from a winter storm downed power lines, endangering motorists across the country and killing at least 11 people along the way.
As bone-chilling temperatures continue to grip the U.S. this holiday weekend, the unrelenting storm is ravaging the Midwest and parts of the East with heavy snowfall, blizzards and even flooding along the Northeast Coast. No let-up is in sight until Christmas.
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At least 11 people have died in four states since Wednesday, reflecting how dangerous and life-threatening conditions have been across much of the country this week.
Three people died in separate car accidents in northern Kansas on Wednesday, Highway Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Candice Breshears. All three deaths were confirmed to be weather-related, Breshears noted.
In Kansas City, Missouri, one person died Thursday afternoon after losing control of their vehicle on icy roads, according to the Kansas City Police Department. The vehicle “went down the embankment, over the cement retaining wall and landed upside down” in a stream, The police said in a statement.
Four people died in car accidents in Ohio, where others were also injured, Gov. Mike DeWine said.
Kentucky reported three deaths from the storm: Two in car accidents and another was a person not housed in Louisville, Gov. Andy Beshear said. The man’s body was found outside with no apparent signs of trauma – an autopsy is needed to determine the cause of death, police said.
For days, forecasters and officials have been sounding the alarm about the dismal conditions the storm promised to bring, imploring motorists to stay away from the icy, snow-covered roads and other travelers to alter their vacation plans for optimal safety.
“Remember that your loved ones care more about keeping you alive and next Christmas than you can get through this one,” Beshear told CNN on Friday.
“People have to stay off the streets. … Being together is more important than ever, but staying safe is even more important,” Beshear added.
The ominous warning comes as the storm continues to descend with snowstorm conditions from the Great Lakes and inner Northeast, bringing with it the dual threat of heavy snow and fast winds.
Hundreds of drivers in several states including New York, South Dakota and Minnesota were stranded this week requiring rescue. Some states have closed major freeways to discourage drivers from getting behind the wheel. In addition, more than 5,000 flights were canceled on Friday and more than 10,000 were delayed.
To make matters worse, whiteout conditions are likely even if snowfall stops or slows, as winds near or above 60 mph are forecast, causing damage and more power outages.
“If you lose power, it gets dangerously cold,” said Jackie Bray, the commissioner for New York’s Homeland Security and Emergency Services, adding people should seek warm shelters, which some counties are providing. “Please don’t assume you can survive this cold overnight without warmth. Maybe you can’t.”
To date, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses are without power, which means millions of residents, according to PowerOutage.US probably no proper heating or hot water as extremely cold temperatures persist on Saturday.
New Hampshire, New York and Virginia each have more than 50,000 outages as of early Saturday, while Maine is reporting more than 240,000 outages, the website shows.
In pictures: Winter storm hits US
Here’s what else to expect on Christmas Eve:
- For many, the common cold comes: More than 175 million people across much of the central and eastern United States are being warned about wind chill. “The life-threatening cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills will pose a potentially life-threatening hazard to travelers who are stranded,” the National Weather Service said.
- Record temperatures in the south: Atlanta and Tallahassee, Florida, are expected to have their coldest temperature on record on December 24, according to the weather service.
- Brutal cold elsewhere: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh will also experience their coldest Christmas day ever on Saturday. Washington, DC could experience its second coldest day on Christmas Eve, the first in 1989. New York is expected to experience its coldest Christmas Eve since 1906. Chicago expects temperatures to rise above zero again but will still experience its coldest Christmas Eve since 1983.
- There is still a risk of flooding: In the Northeast, both coastal and inland flooding threaten from heavy rain falling on a melting snowpack. Moderate to occasional major coastal flooding is possible due to strong onshore winds.