MISSION, Kan. (AP) – A vicious winter storm continued to sweep across much of the United States Saturday, bringing blizzards, freezing rain, flooding and life-threatening cold that created chaos for those traveling to the Christmas party.
The storm that arrived earlier in the week downed power lines, littered highways with car pile-ups in deadly crashes and led to massive flight cancellations.
The storm was nearly unprecedented in its scope, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border. About 60% of the US population faced some type of winter weather warning or advisory, and temperatures fell drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.
Freezing rain covered much of the Pacific Northwest in a blanket of ice, while people in the Northeast faced the threat of coastal and inland flooding.
Cold temperatures and strong winds were expected to produce “dangerous wind chills across much of the central and eastern U.S. this holiday weekend,” the weather service said, adding that the conditions “will create a potentially life-threatening danger to passengers who become stranded.”
“In some areas, being outside can lead to freezing within minutes,” he said.
Adding to the woes were power outages that by late Friday were affecting more than a million homes and businesses, according to the website PowerOutage, which tracks utility reports.
As millions of Americans were traveling ahead of Christmas, more than 5,700 flights within, within or outside the US were canceled on Friday, according to tracking site FlightAware.
Multiple highways were closed and the accidents claimed at least six lives, officials said. At least two people died in a massive pileup involving about 50 vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike. A driver in Kansas City, Missouri, was killed Thursday after sliding into a creek, and three others died Wednesday in separate crashes on icy roads in northern Kansas.
In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights Friday at Toronto Pearson International Airport after forecasters there warned of a possible once-in-a-decade weather event. While in Mexico, migrants camped near the US border in bitterly cold temperatures as they awaited a US Supreme Court ruling on pandemic-era restrictions that prevent many from seeking asylum.
Forecasters said a bomb cyclone – when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a severe storm – had developed near the Great Lakes, prompting storm conditions, including strong winds and snow.
People in Florida also braced for extremely cold weather after rare freeze warnings were issued for large parts of the state over the holiday weekend.
Activists were rushing to get the homeless out of the cold. Nearly 170 adults and children were warming up early Friday in Detroit in a shelter and warming center designed to hold 100 people.
“That’s a lot of extra people,” but it wasn’t an option to turn anyone away, said Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services, which runs both facilities.
Emergency weather shelters in Portland, Oregon, called for volunteers amid high demand and staffing issues as snow, freezing rain, ice and frigid temperatures descended on the area.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said she was deploying the National Guard to haul lumber to the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes and help with snow removal.
“We have families that are far away that we haven’t heard from in two weeks,” said Wayne Boyd, chief of staff to the Rosebud Sioux president.
On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Harlie Young huddled with five children and her father around a wood stove as 12 feet of snow blocked the house.
“We’re just trying to look on the bright side that they’re still coming and they haven’t forgotten us,” she said Friday.
Calling it a “kitchen sink storm,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency. In parts of New York City, tidal flooding inundated streets, homes and businesses Friday morning.
In Boston, rain combined with high tide flooded several downtown streets on Friday.
Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press reporters Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit; Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon; Zeke Miller in Washington, DC; and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.