millions without electricity, deaths and flight cancellations

(CNN) — A huge winter storm lashed the United States on Friday with freezing temperatures, strong winds and heavy snowfall, killing at least nine people, knocking out power to more than a million customers and ruining vacation plans from coast to coast.

The storm, which is expected to intensify as it moves through the Midwest and East, is causing grim conditions on roads with poor visibility and icy roads. Coastal flooding is also a problem, particularly along the northeastern coasts.

All modes of travel – planes, trains and automobiles – have been affected: hundreds of kilometers of closed roads and flight cancellations which are increasing rapidly. In New York, flooding along the Long Island Railroad forced the temporary closure of part of the Long Beach branch line.

“Christmas is cancelled,” said Mick Saunders, a Buffalo, New York, resident who spent two hours in blizzard conditions, expected to last through Sunday morning. “All the family and friends agreed that it is safer this way.”

At least 9 deaths have been reported since Wednesday.

Cars drive in difficult conditions in Orchard Park, New York, on Friday. Credit: Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News/AP

In north-central Kansas, three people were killed in separate car crashes Wednesday night; One death was confirmed to be related to weather conditions and two more are believed to be due to the same reason, but require further investigation, according to Kansas Highway Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Candice Breshears.

In Kansas City, one person died after losing control of their Dodge Caravan on icy roads Thursday afternoon, according to the Kansas City Police Department. “The Dodge fell down the embankment, over the concrete retaining wall and landed upside down, submerged in Brush Creek,” police said in a statement.

In Kentucky, three people were killed by the storm, including two in car accidents and the other a person with “unsafe housing” in Louisville, Gov. Andy Beshear said. The man’s body was found outside with no obvious signs of trauma and an autopsy would determine the cause of death, police said.

And in Ohio, four people have died “as a result of weather-related auto accidents” and several others have been injured, according to Gov. Mike DeWine.

Life-threatening cold has reached as far as the Gulf Coast and the Mexican border, with freezing temperatures reported as far south as Austin and Atlanta. Many places in the eastern US will experience their coldest Christmas Eve in decades as the Arctic gust peaks.

The most shocking images of the snow storm in the US 1:19

About 1.2 million US customers experience power outages amidst the winter weather and frigid temperatures, depending on the site website PowerOutage.US. Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania have the most power outages.

In total, more than 200 million people in the US were under wind chill watches from the Canadian border to the Mexican border and from Washington state to Florida, with freezing temperatures expected in the Southeast from the friday. Other winter weather watches are in effect for blizzard, ice, snow and flood conditions.

“The graphic Watch Warning from the National Weather Service represents one of the largest outreaches of winter weather warnings and advisories in history,” the agency said Thursday.

Record cold Christmas Eve for many

In particular, parts of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming have already experienced wind chills below minus 10 degrees Celsius in the past two days.

The entire state of Texas experienced freezing temperatures early Friday afternoon, according to statewide weather observations.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul warned residents of the “epic danger across the state” of winter weather.

“We’ve had ice, flooding, snow, sub-zero temperatures and everything else that Mother Nature could hit us with this weekend,” Hochul said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

For Brian Trzeciak, the storm “complied with warnings” at his home in Hamburg, New York. The Buffalo airport, just to the north, reported zero visibility shortly after noon on Friday.

“The bleaching conditions, the freezing temperatures and the waves are just like what you would see during a hurricane,” he told CNN.

He and his family decided to cancel their Christmas plans due to the dangers of the storm.

“My mother lives about 30 minutes away and so does my sister and her family, in the other direction,” he said. “We always get together for Christmas Eve and Christmas, but we all huddle in our houses until it’s all over on Monday.”

Chicago, on December 22, 2022. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Driving bans are in effect in Erie, Genesee, Niagara and Orleans counties in western New York due to outage conditions.

Hundreds of people were stranded in their cars in Erie late Friday, according to a tweet from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Many will experience a chilly holiday like no other: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tallahassee, Florida are all forecast to have their lowest temperatures ever recorded on December 24, according to the National Weather Service.

Washington is forecast to see its second coldest Christmas Eve, only after 1989. In New York, it will be the coldest Christmas Eve since 1906. Chicago expects temperatures to rebound above freezing, but it will still experience its coldest Christmas Eve since 1983.

Much of Florida will have a cold snap on Christmas Day. It will be the coldest Christmas Day since 1983 for Miami, Tampa, Orlando and West Palm Beach.

A storm hopes to become a “bomb cyclone”

On Friday, the storm unleashed more heavy snow and blizzards, particularly in the Midwest.

As it moves east across the country, the storm is expected to become a “cyclonic pump“, a rapidly strengthening storm that drops 24 millibars of pressure in 24 hours. The storm’s pressure was forecast to equal that of a Category 2 hurricane as it moved toward the Great Lakes Friday morning.

The governors of at least 13 states, including Georgia and North Carolina in the South, have implemented emergency measures to respond to the storm. State of emergency declarations in several states have included the activation of National Guard units.

Nearly 5,300 flights on Friday had been canceled as of 7:30 p.m. (Miam time), after nearly 2,700 cancellations on Thursday, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

By cyclonic bomb, millions in the US will live a different Christmas 0:59

Separate storm system in the Pacific Northwest

A separate storm system will bring heavy mixed precipitation to the Pacific Northwest on Friday.

A winter storm warning is in effect for western Washington, including Seattle, until 7 p.m. PST (10 p.m. Miami time) Friday. Additional snowfall of up to 5 cm is possible and ice accumulations could reach a quarter of an inch. The precipitation will begin as snow and transition to sleet/freezing rain and finally to rain. More power outages are likely and travel will be very difficult.

The ice caused runway closures at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where almost half of the flights in and out of the airport were cancelled, according to FlightAware. In addition, all express services from Sound Transit, a regional transit network in the Seattle metropolitan area, are suspended on Friday due to frost.

A winter storm warning is also in effect for northeast Oregon, including Portland, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Pacific time (1 a.m. Miami time). Total snow and sleet accumulations of up to 2.5 cm and ice accumulations of 0.5 to 1 cm are likely, as well as winds gusting to 88 km/h. Chills as low as zero are possible, and frostbite is possible on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

Travelers check in for their flights at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 23, 2022. Credit: JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

One of the biggest dangers of the huge winter storm, aside from heavy snowfall and blizzards, is the rapid drop in temperatures in a short period of time. The air will continue to get colder and feel colder, especially during the night hours.

Zenebou Sylla, Ross Levitt, Amanda Musa, Robert Shackelford, Caroll Alvarado, Rebekah Riess, Amanda Watts, Jason Hanna, Paul P. Murphy, Liam Reilly, Nicki Brown, Taylor Ward and CNN’s Dave Hennen contributed to this report.

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