Severe winter weather is set to affect millions across the United States this week, as freezing temperatures and strong storms threaten to wreak havoc on holiday travel plans.
A burst of arctic air settling over several states this week is forecast to drop temperatures to dangerous – and potentially deadly – levels just as more than 110 million Americans are expected to set out for their celebrations.
Across the country, close to 50 million people are under winter storm watches, advisories, and warnings, and more than 50 million Americans are also under windchill alerts.
The developing “bomb cyclone” set to bombard areas from the Plains to the mid-Atlantic has been called a once-in-a-generation event by the National Weather Service.
“Some of the parameters of this intense storm are climatologically ‘off the charts’,” the agency’s hub in Buffalo, New York, wrote Tuesday, while the Minneapolis branch wrote that it “is still looking to develop as a high end, life-threatening event”.
Record-breaking cold will envelope large swathes of the country, accompanied with strong winds and heavy snow, according to the National Weather Service, that reported wind chills could dip as low as -40 degrees across the intermountain west and northern/central plains. Some areas might even reach -70 by the end of the week.
“Wind chills of this magnitude can cause frostbite in less than five minutes,” the agency said in a forecast discussion issued Tuesday. The extreme drop in temperatures could be life-threatening, especially if power outages occur.
As temperatures dramatically drop, there are heightened concerns for other hazards, including flash freezing and snow squalls.
Along with the cold, the National Weather Service has warned that sudden whiteouts and icy roads will only add to the dangers, especially for those driving to their holiday destinations.
The National Weather Service has already cautioned travellers to make alternative plans, with 2.9 million people being expected to travel through Chicago’s major airports ahead of the holiday weekend, NBC Chicago reported.
Several US airlines have already begun issuing waivers to get ahead of cancellations.
In the west too, states are bracing for inclement weather, as Seattle and other cities throughout Washington state are also facing major storms, the Associated Press reported.
The National Weather Service reported that parts of Washington are already experiencing heavy snow, upwards of 18in in the Olympic and Cascade mountains area. Seattle officials have already put out alerts for people to avoid travel on Tuesday and reminders that the city’s shelters are open.
Over the past weekend, areas of the northeast also saw heavy snow, including New York, New England, Vermont and Maine. More than 200,000 homes and businesses in the impacted states experienced power outages on Saturday, including 28,900 homes and businesses in New York. – Guardian