A nearly week-long winter storm ravaging much of the United States has dropped temperatures to life-threatening lows, led to blizzards and floods, and left more than a quarter of a million people without power on Christmas Day.
Blizzard conditions continue across the Great Lakes, while freezing temperatures grip the eastern two-thirds of the United States, with some major cities in the Southeast, Midwest and East Coast recording their coldest Christmas in decades.
Large areas of the central and eastern United States remain under wind chill warnings and advisories, as freeze warnings are in effect across the South.
New York City had record cold temperatures on Christmas Eve in several locations, including JFK and LaGuardia airports. The high in Central Park was 15 degrees, marking the second-coldest Dec. 24 in at least 150 years, according to National Weather Service.
At least 22 deaths have been attributed to dangerous weather conditions since Wednesday, and some Northeast residents are spending the holiday without adequate heat or hot water as extremely cold temperatures persist.
Across the United States, 275,856 U.S. homes and businesses were without power as of 1 a.m. ET, many of them in Maine and New York, according to PowerOutage.us. Since the storm started, the number of outages has at times exceeded one million customers.
A grid operator for at least 13 states in the country’s eastern half asked customers to conserve electricity and set thermostats lower than usual from early Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday because usage was straining capacity.
The operator, PJM Interconnection, serves about 65 million people in all or part of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, and warned if rolling blackouts can occur if the load becomes too great.
In New York, energy companies Con Edison and Natural Grid US also urged customers to save energy, citing extreme weather conditions and increased energy demand on interstate pipelines that carry natural gas into the city.
Meanwhile, a shortage of electricity in Texas prompted the US Department of Energy to declare an emergency on Friday, allowing the state’s energy supplier to exceed environmental emissions standards until energy use falls.
In Jackson, Mississippi, frigid temperatures hampered efforts to repair a major water main break late Saturday, causing a loss of water pressure for residents, city officials said.
“We are grateful to the crews braving these frigid temperatures this Christmas Eve as they work to restore pressure to residents. Their sacrifice does not go unnoticed and is appreciated not only by this administration, but by all residents affected,” the statement said. the release.
The brutal weather conditions also snarled travel over the busy holiday weekend, with more than 5,000 flights canceled on Friday, more than 3,400 flights canceled on Saturday and more than 1,000 canceled for Christmas Day.
Road conditions were no better in parts of the country due to whiteout conditions and icy and snowy roads.
In New York’s Erie County — which is experiencing blistering blizzards — about 500 motorists found themselves stranded in their vehicles Friday night into Saturday morning, despite a county driving ban that was put in place during the storm, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
National Guard troops were called in to help “rescue people stuck in vehicles,” and to give rides to medical workers so they could relieve colleagues who had been working at hospitals for more than a day, Poloncarz said.
In Seattle, Washington, online videos have documented cars skidding on icy roads and bumping into each other and residents slipping while walking on sidewalks, CNN affiliate KOMO reported.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she will ask the federal government for a state of emergency after a severe winter storm.
“I will ask the federal government for an emergency declaration that will allow us to seek reimbursement for the extraordinary expenses of all the overtime and the fact that we brought in mutual aid from other parts of the state,” Hochul told reporters Saturday. “We have deployed individuals – the relief crews have arrived, but have also made sure we have all the vehicles we need.”
New York’s three storm-related deaths were reported in Erie County. Two died in separate incidents 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, confirmed by a county spokeswoman Saturday afternoon, were not immediately available.
“The loss of two lives in Buffalo – storm-related – because people were unable to get to a doctor, is again a crisis situation unfolding before your eyes and you realize that life-saving ambulances and emergency medical personnel cannot get to people during a blizzard situation ,” Hochul added.
Other storm-related deaths have been reported in the country. They include:
• Colorado: Police in Colorado Springs, Colo., reported two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with a man found near a power transformer in a building possibly seeking warmth, and another in a camp in an alley.
• Kansas: Three people have died in weather-related traffic crashes, the Kansas Highway Patrol said Friday.
• Kentucky: Three people have died in the state, officials have said, including one involving a vehicle crash in Montgomery County.
• Missouri: One person died after a camper slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek, Kansas City police said.
• Ohio: Eight people have died as a result of weather-related car crashes, including four in an accident Saturday morning on Interstate 75, when a semi-tractor trailer crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup truck, authorities said.
• Tennessee: The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed one storm-related death on Friday.
• Wisconsin: The Wisconsin State Patrol reported a fatal accident Thursday due to winter weather.
In pictures: The winter storm hits the USA
The storm system is forecast to gradually weaken as it lifts into southeastern Canada, moving slowly over the next couple of days and pulling arctic air from Canada down into much of the eastern side of the country.
The arctic blast being felt across the eastern two-thirds of the country will slowly moderate into Monday, but dangerous conditions will persist into Christmas Day.
The cold temperatures combined with dangerous wind chills will create a potentially life-threatening hazard for stranded travelers, people working outside, livestock and pets, according to the National Weather Service.
“In some areas, being outdoors can lead to frostbite in minutes,” the Weather Service warned.
As the frigid air continues to blast the warm waters of the Great Lakes, snow and blizzard conditions are expected to continue, but slowly become less intense.
Still, strong winds up to 60 mph accompanying the upwind snow from the Great Lakes will continue to create extremely dangerous road conditions.
By Christmas Eve into Monday, another low pressure system coming off the Pacific Ocean will deliver the next wave of moisture toward the Pacific Northwest and then into Northern California, according to the Weather Service.