The deadly winter storm, which has killed at least 28 people and caused travel chaos across the US, will pose a “potentially life-threatening hazard” for those traveling or working outside on Christmas Day, weather forecasters warned Sunday.
“In some areas, being outdoors can cause frostbite in minutes,” the National Weather Service said in a bulletin.
“If you must travel or be out in the elements, prepare for extreme cold by dressing in layers, covering as much exposed skin as possible, and packing winter safety kits in your vehicles,” she added.
The storm, which stretched from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border, swept across the United States in recent days, leaving at least 28 dead, according to a tally by NBC News. Deaths were recorded in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and New York, among others.
Four people died in a three-vehicle crash on an Ohio freeway Saturday and at least three people died in the Buffalo area, including two who suffered medical emergencies at their homes and could not be rescued because emergency responders could not reach them historical snowstorm conditions.
Forecasters said 28 inches of snow had accumulated in the city as of Saturday. Last month, areas south of the city saw a record six feet of snow from a single storm.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday nearly every fire engine in the city was stranded in the snow as she urged residents to “bundle up, stay inside and stay safe this weekend.”
The city’s international airport was also closed.
Blinding snowstorms, freezing rain and freezing cold also left power outages in places from Maine to Seattle, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses without power and millions nervous about the possibility of power outages.
The start of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans game in Nashville was delayed by an hour due to a planned power outage.
Power was restored, but by early Christmas Day over 250,000 homes were without power, including nearly 100,000 across Maine, according to website Poweroutage.us.
National Grid, which serves customers in New York and Massachusetts, on Saturday urged its customers in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island to reduce natural gas use through Sunday afternoon.
Thousands of flights have also been canceled as people try to get home for Christmas. At least 1,200 flights were canceled across the country on Sunday, leaving last-minute holidaymakers stranded.
Increased snowfall may be partly attributed to climate change, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, as “a warmer planet evaporates more water into the atmosphere.”
“This extra humidity means more precipitation in the form of heavy snowfall or downpours,” its website says.
“In the warmer months, this can lead to record-breaking flooding. But in winter – when our part of the world has tilted away from the sun – temperatures drop and instead of downpours we can get massive winter storms,” she added.
Meanwhile, the NWS said conditions are “expected to slowly improve as the system weakens”. But for Sunday, blustery winds were said to “continue to filter cold Canadian air into the nation’s eastern two-thirds.”
It said “heavy lake-effect snow, strong winds and limited visibility” would persist downwind of the Great Lakes and “bitter conditions” would persist across much of the country.
“Lake effect snow and local blizzard conditions may continue into Christmas Day,” he added.
Associated Press contributed.