A historic “bomb cyclone” began to pummel the nation on Wednesday, dumping snow on roads across the Midwest to the East Coast and disrupting one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.
Heavy snow, ice, and powerful wind gusts pounded multiple states as 150 million Americans prepared for sub-zero temperatures as far south as the Gulf Coast in the crippling arctic blast, Fox Weather reported.
The Federal Aviation Administration warned travelers to check for flight delays in Minneapolis. High winds could also delay flights in Chicago and Denver.
Delta, American, United, Frontier, Alaska, Southwest and other airlines were waiving change fees and offering travelers the option of choosing new flights to avoid the bad weather.
As of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday night, 441 US flights had been canceled, with an additional 791 flights already canceled tomorrow and 571 so far on Friday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
Airports said they would work hard to stay open. Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports said they have 350 pieces of equipment and 400,000 gallons of pavement de-icing fluid between them to keep runways and taxiways clear.
Bus and train travelers were also anticipating cancellations and delays.
Earlier this month, AAA estimated that nearly 113 million Americans would travel 50 miles from home or more between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 — a 4% increase from last year, however still shy of the record 119 million in 2019. Most plan to travel by car, AAA reported, and about 6% plan to travel by air.
Nearly 200 million Americans are bracing for “life-threatening” frigid temperatures due to the massive storm system, according to the National Weather Service.
Fox Weather reported that nearly 92 million people are under cold temperature alerts, with more in the East likely to join as the storm progresses later in the week.
Wind chill alerts currently stretch from the US-Canadian border to the Texas Gulf Coast, including portions of at least 26 states. Wind chills could plummet to as low as negative 60 degrees on the Great Plains and 30 below in the Midwest, with forecasts of high winds and snow already complicating holiday travel.
“Much of the country will see dangerous cold over the next few days, and it will arrive suddenly with a powerful Arctic front,” the National Weather Service Prediction Center warned in a tweet. “Travel may become difficult immediately behind the front with bursts of snow and gusty winds leading to sudden whiteouts, flash freezing, and icy roads.”
The “bomb cyclone” could be a once-in-a-generation weather event, officials have said.
A bomb cyclone is a term used by meteorologists to describe a rapidly strengthening storm — typically when a storm system’s central pressure drops at least 24 millibars within 24 hours, Fox Weather explained.
“High pressure parked over the Northwest Territories of Canada right now scoops up that cold air from the poles in the Arctic and then pushes it all the way down and into the northern Rockies, Dakotas and Upper Midwest,” said FOX Weather Meteorologist Steve Bender. “A developing low-pressure center over the Great Lakes will then tap into that arctic air and accelerate it down into the southern Plains.”
After spending days numbing the Midwest, the biting blast of cold air will then move south and east Thursday into Friday, according to Fox Weather.
North Carolina and Kentucky have already declared a state of emergency with Georgia expected to follow.
Many states have warned residents to prepare themselves for power outages, with officials warning residents to check in on their elderly relatives and neighbors and to stay off the roads if possible.
According to the National Weather Service, “Cold of this magnitude could lead to frostbite on exposed skin within minutes, as well as hypothermia and death if exposure is prolonged.”
“Areas like Oklahoma, Arkansas, northern Texas and northern Louisiana, and the Mississippi Delta — you have to prepared for the cold as well as potential power outages as the wind gusts will be quite strong along with the potential for a freeze,” Bender.
In the Northeast, meteorologists said New York City and the surrounding suburbs should expect to see rain over the upcoming weekend, which is at risk of rapidly freezing and causing slick and dangerous road conditions.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Tuesday that it expects nearly 11 million air passengers and vehicles to use its airports and crossings from Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, through Monday, Jan. 2, 2023.
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