More than 200,000 Americans woke up without power on Christmas morning as a days-long winter megastorm battered several eastern US states on Sunday and left more than 20 people dead.
The extreme weather, a mix of prolonged blizzards and historic cold, dropped wind chill temperatures in all 48 contiguous US states below freezing this weekend, stranding vacationers with thousands of canceled flights and trapping residents in ice- and snow-covered homes.
Twenty-two weather-related deaths have been confirmed in eight states, including at least seven deaths in western New York, where heavy snow, relentless winds and freezing temperatures have plunged Buffalo and surrounding towns into crisis.
While much of the country has begun to recover from the massive storm and temperatures in some places were returning to seasonal normality, Buffalo remained in the grips of “a major disaster,” with emergency responders unable to reach several areas of big impact, a senior official said early Sunday.
“We have seven confirmed deaths at this time as a result of the storm in Erie County. There could be more,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz told reporters.
He described dire conditions, with hours-long whiteouts and bodies discovered in cars and under snowbanks in a region where Gov. Kathy Hochul deployed the National Guard to help with rescues.
“It was as bad as anyone has ever seen it,” Poloncarz said.
“The conditions are just so bad”
The National Weather Service warned that blizzard conditions in the Great Lakes region caused by lake-effect snow would continue on Christmas Day, with “additional snow accumulations of 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) through tonight.”
A couple in Buffalo, which sits across the border with Canada, told AFP on Saturday that with the roads completely impassable, they did not want to make the 10-minute drive to see their family for Christmas.
“It’s tough because the conditions are so bad… a lot of fire departments don’t even send out trucks to respond,” said 40-year-old Rebecca Bortolin.
A wider travel nightmare was in full effect for millions.
“The bomb cyclone, one of the fiercest in decades, forced the cancellation of more than 1,500 U.S. flights on Sunday, in addition to about 3,500 being scrapped on Saturday and nearly 6,000 on Friday, according to the tracking website Flightaware.com.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted Saturday that “the most extreme disruptions are behind us as airlines and airport operations gradually recover.”
But travelers remained stranded or delayed at airports, including in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Minneapolis and New York.
Icy and whiteout conditions also led to the temporary closure of some of the nation’s busiest transportation routes, including cross-country Interstate 70.
Drivers were warned not to hit the roads – even as the nation reached what is usually the busiest time of year to travel.
The extreme weather has put a heavy strain on the nation’s power grid, with several power providers urging customers to reduce usage to minimize ongoing blackouts in places like North Carolina and Tennessee.
At one point Saturday, nearly 1.7 million customers across the country were without power in the bitter cold, according to tracker poweroutage.us.
But the number dropped significantly by Sunday, although more than 200,000 customers in eastern states were still without power.
Canadian authorities have also issued severe weather warnings. Hundreds of thousands were left without power in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, many flights were canceled in major cities and train passenger service between Toronto and Ottawa was suspended.
In British Columbia province, authorities said 53 people were injured when a passenger bus crashed late Saturday on a highway known as the Okanagan Connector northeast of Vancouver. The cause of the accident was under investigation.
© 2022 AFP
Citation: 22 dead as wild US blizzard cuts power, snarls travel (2022, December 25) retrieved December 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-dead-savage-blizzard-power-snarls.html
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