Winter storm hitting the US hampers travel and leaves record low temperatures

(CNN) — A strong arctic gust is dropping temperatures to dangerous levels in much of the United States and a “cyclone bomb” The developing country is poised to unleash heavy snow and blizzards, especially in the Midwest this Thursday and Friday, a combination that makes the days leading up to Christmas perilous.

Cold air and the storm are affecting nearly every state in some way: More than 110 million people from coast to coast were under winter weather watches for snow or icy conditions Thursday morning, the National Weather Service said.

And more than 150 million people were under wind chill alerts from the Canadian border to the Mexican border and from Washington state to Florida, with sub-zero temperatures reported as far south as Texas as of Thursday morning and expected to arrive in the southeast this Friday.

“Potentially deadly wind chill over the Great Plains will spread across the eastern half of the nation by Friday,” the Weather Prediction Center said, and wind chills below -45°C have already been reported in recent two days in parts of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Some records for low temperatures were set in the West and South this Thursday morning, in some cases with unprecedented speed: Denver International Airport experienced a drop of 20.5 °C in one hour on Wednesday, the most drop registered in an hour there, according to the National Metereological Service.

Meanwhile, snow has been battering parts of the west and is expected to fall in the next two days across much of the eastern half of the country.

A major snowstorm is coming especially for the Midwest and Great Lakes with widespread light to moderate snowfall, but powerful winds that can make travel conditions impossible.

“Heavy snowfall rates” of 2 to 5 centimeters per hour, “along with wind gusts in excess of 80 km/h will result in near-zero visibility and considerable wind and drifting snow,” said the prediction center.

The storm is expected to become a “cyclone bomb” — a rapidly strengthening storm that drops a certain amount of pressure in 24 hours — Thursday night through Friday, reaching pressure equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane as it moves toward the Great Lakes. This could be “a once-in-a-generation type of event”, wrote this tuesday a meteorologist with the weather service’s office in Buffalo, after noting that that kind of strengthening doesn’t happen often in the lower Great Lakes.

A blizzard warning will be in effect at 7 a.m. Friday in Buffalo and surrounding communities, where a foot to three feet of snow and wind gusts of 70 mph are likely, according to the National Weather Service.

Nearly 2,200 flights were canceled in the US this Thursday, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware, hindering air travel in the midst of the busy holiday season. Flights have also been canceled for Friday, as a preventive measure.

In South Dakota, a 547 km stretch of Interstate 90 was closed in both directions Thursday morning from Rapid City to Sioux Falls due to blizzard-like conditions, they said The authorities. Near zero visibility also caused the closure of many highways between Colorado and Wyoming on Wednesday.

Even Florida won’t be spared, and Sunshine State residents are expected to see sudden drops in temperatures this Friday. Some southern cities, including Nashville and Memphis, are expected to see snowfall this Thursday.

Meanwhile, flooding is possible in parts of the Northeast, including Washington and Philadelphia, as rain hits the area Thursday before temperatures plummet overnight and bring a flash freeze.

President Joe Biden received a weather report Thursday morning at the White House from the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He encouraged Americans to heed warnings from local officials and stay safe in the extreme cold.

“This is really a very serious weather alert,” Biden said, adding that the White House has contacted 26 governors in the affected regions.

Winter storms affect vacation travel 2:03

What lies ahead with the cyclone pump

  • Snow was falling early Thursday afternoon from Oklahoma to Michigan.
  • Snow and high winds are expected to create terrible travel conditions from eastern Montana and the northern Plains into midwestern and upstate New York.
  • The warnings of snow stormmeaning snow and 56 km/h winds will often reduce visibility to less than 0.4 km for at least three hours, went into effect Thursday morning in some of those areas, including the southwest Minneapolis, Chicago south and east, and Michigan west and north.
  • Cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Columbus and Detroit are under winter storm warnings.

More about extreme cold

  • The Wind Chill Warnings, Alerts, and Advisories they were in effect for more than 30 states from Washington to Florida on Thursday.
  • The Arctic front will move south into the Gulf of Mexico and sweep up the East Coast by Friday night, bringing cold to the Deep South.
  • Daytime temperatures this Thursday may remain below freezing in the Northern Plains and barely exceed -17°C in the Central Plains.
  • Areas further south, Texas and the Gulf Coast, will see temperatures of a below minus 17 degrees Celsius Thursday night, the Storm Prediction Center said.
  • Officials in several southern states are warning residents to take precautions. Alabama warned that this Thursday and Friday would likely be the “coldest December air mass to hit the state since 1989,” the state’s emergency management agency said. The minimums for this Friday in that state were expected to range between -17 and -6 °C in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards urged residents Thursday to stay in touch with friends and family who may struggle with the frigid temperatures. Lows for Friday and Saturday were expected to be between -12 and -6°C.
  • Two places in Wyoming set records early Thursday for the coldest temperatures ever recorded in a particular place, regardless of the date on the calendar. Those new records are minus -40°C in Casper and -33°C in Riverton.
  • Other places in the West and South set record lows Thursday for temperatures of any December 22, including several places in Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Arkansas and Washington state.

— CNN’s Nouran Salahieh, Allie Malloy, Aya Elamroussi, Michelle Watson, Mike Saenz, Rebekah Riess and Robert Shackelford contributed to this report.

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