A powerful winter storm left 1.7 million homes and businesses without power across the United States on Saturday, as millions more were left worried about how the prospect of further outages would affect vacation and travel plans.
Blazing storms, freezing rain and freezing cold that blanketed much of the country knocked out power from Maine to Seattle, as the main electric grid operator warned the 65 million people it serves across the eastern US that continuous outages may be required.
Across the country, officials attributed at least a dozen deaths to exposure, crashes with cars on icy and snow-covered roads and the effects of the storm, including two people who died in their homes outside Buffalo, New York, when crews of emergency they could not reach. those between historical storm conditions.
Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection said power plants struggle to operate in cold weather and urged residents in 13 states to refrain from using electricity unnecessarily.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to 10 million people in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states, directed local power companies on Saturday to implement planned outages to “ensure the reliability of the power system.”
Across six New England states, almost 400,000 electric customers were without power Saturday morning, with some utilities warning it could be days before power is restored. In North Carolina, more than 415,000 customers were without power, according to poweroutage.us.
PJM Interconnection’s system-wide emergency call advised residents to set thermostats lower than usual, postpone the use of major appliances such as stoves and dishwashers and turn off non-essential lights.
Commercial and industrial power users have also been asked to cut back. Utility officials said the simultaneous surge in demand across its power system came as some power plants struggled to operate in the extreme cold. They warned of continued disruption.
“It’s going to be short-lived, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent it, but it’s a real possibility,” said Mike Bryson, PJM’s senior vice president of operations. It covers all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, DC
Across the country, the storm forced highway closures, and crashes, exposure and storm damage have killed at least a dozen people, officials said.
Two people died in their homes in the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga on Friday when emergency crews couldn’t get to them in time to treat their medical emergencies, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
At a weather briefing late Saturday morning, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul described the blizzard that hit western parts of the state as “one of the worst on record.”
It affected transportation in parts of western New York, with Buffalo Niagara International Airport closed until Monday morning and several roads closed through Christmas Day, Hochul said. Almost every fire truck in Buffalo, she said, was stuck in the snow as of Saturday morning.
“No matter how many emergency vehicles we have, they cannot pass the conditions as we speak,” she said.
Four 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.
A Vermont woman died in a hospital Friday after a tree snapped in strong winds and fell on her home. Police in Colorado Springs said they found the body of a man who appeared to be homeless after sub-zero temperatures and snow descended on the region.
Adding to the woes were power outages that by early Saturday were affecting more than 1.7 million homes and businesses, according to the website PowerOutage, which tracks utility reports.
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.”
As millions of Americans were traveling ahead of Christmas, more than 5,700 flights within, into or out of the US were canceled on Friday, according to tracking site FlightAware.
Meanwhile 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.
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