An Arctic “bomb cyclone” could make it hard for millions of Americans to travel for the holidays.
On Thursday, a dangerously cold arctic air mass covered a large part of the United States. At the same time, a huge winter storm was coming and could ruin travel plans for millions of Americans.
Before the holiday weekend, the coming storm was expected to bring blizzard conditions to the Great Lakes, heavy rains followed by a flash freeze to the East Coast, wind gusts of 60 miles per hour (100 kph), and bitter cold as far south as the Mexican border.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said that as the storm formed over the Great Lakes on Thursday, a “rapidly deepening low-pressure” system would likely turn into a bomb cyclone.
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The weather service said that the cyclone could cause snowfalls of 0.5 inches (1.25 cm) per hour and howling winds from the upper Midwest to the interior of the Northeast, which would make visibility almost nonexistent.
The NWS said that in the High Plains, northern Rockies, and Great Basin, wind-chill factors as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius) were expected. This is on top of the arctic cold. Without the right gear, just a few minutes in these conditions can cause frostbite.
High winds, heavy snow, and icy conditions, along with a general increase in energy use, could cause power outages, and the storm was expected to make travel nearly impossible at times.
Extreme cold was especially dangerous for livestock in a ranching region.Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE:TSN), which sells more meat than any other company in the country, said it had cut back on operations to protect workers and animals.
President Joe Biden said at the White House, “It’s dangerous and threatening.” He told Americans who had plans to travel that they should not wait and should leave on Thursday. “This isn’t like a snow day when you were a kid.” “This is serious stuff.”
By afternoon, the weather service said that more than 200 million people, or about 60% of the U.S. population, were under wind-chill alerts and other winter weather advisories in more than half of the Lower 48 states, from Washington state to Florida.
The NWS said Thursday’s map of possible weather problems, which went from coast to coast and from border to border, showed “one of the largest areas of winter weather warnings and advisories ever.”
Christmas is a “white-out.”
As it moves east from the Plains and Great Lakes, the storm front could dump more than a foot (30 cm) of snow in some places, said Ashton Cook, a meteorologist with the weather service. From Illinois to Indiana, snow squalls were expected, which could make it impossible to see.
The American Automobile Association says that between December 23 and January 2, 112.7 million people planned to travel 50 miles (80 km) or more from home. This is 3.6 million more than last year, and the number is getting close to what it was before the pandemic.
FlightAware, a service that keeps track of flights, says that more than 4,500 U.S. flights planned for Thursday and Friday have been cancelled. Of these, more than 1,200 have been cancelled at two major airports in Chicago.
Nadia Dickens, 42, who works for a management company in Gallatin, Tennessee, said Thursday after her flight from Nashville was cancelled, “They’re ruining Christmas.”
She was going to Corpus Christi, Texas, for a Christmas Day family get-together where she and her 94-year-old grandmother would make tamales. Dickens booked another flight to Austin, Texas, even though a family member offered to drive her the four hours to the family reunion, but she was still not hopeful.
She said, “We’re going to get an inch of snow tonight, and the weather is terrible everywhere.”
The cold air mass that started in the north was moving south through central Oklahoma and northwestern Texas on Thursday, where the temperature dropped to single digits.
In February 2021, hundreds of people in Texas died when the state’s power grid went down because of storms. This left millions of people without power. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which has since worked to protect its grid, “expects sufficient generation to meet forecasted demand at this time,” said ERCOT spokesperson Christy Penders.
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The NWS said that temperatures in the Southern Plains and Southeast could be 30 degrees or more below normal for several days.
Greg Carbin, who is in charge of forecast operations at the NWS Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, said that temperatures about 25 degrees below normal would cut through the middle of Florida.
As temperatures dropped, drivers in the Ohio and Tennessee valleys were warned that wet roads could freeze over in an instant.
The NWS also said that parts of Oregon and Washington in the Northwest, where a different storm was forming on Thursday, could get freezing rain.
On Wednesday, Georgia declared a state of emergency, just like North Carolina and Kentucky did the day before. North Georgia was expected to be 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 degrees Celsius), with wind chills well below zero.
At a media briefing, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said, “We’re expecting weather we haven’t seen in a decade or more.”
Brandon Mattis, who is 24 years old, said that his flight from New York City to Atlanta was cancelled on Thursday because of the storm that was coming. He was “flustered” at LaGuardia Airport in Queens.
Mattis said that he looked for other ways to get to Atlanta and even thought about taking a 21-hour bus ride.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get there,” he said.