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A powerful winter storm is bringing heavy snow, strong winds and dangerously cold temperatures to the central U.S., with conditions expected to worsen through the rest of the week, forecasters warned.
The powerful storm is expected to "produce widespread disruptive and potentially crippling impacts across the central and eastern United States" through the rest of the week, according to the National Weather Service.
Low temperatures combined with forceful winds are leading to wind chills as low as minus 40 degrees in some areas, which can cause frostbite within minutes.
What to know
- A significant and disruptive storm system is producing a multitude of weather hazards, including record cold, strong winds, life-threatening wind chills, freezing rain and heavy snowfall.
- The storm has caused temperatures to fall rapidly in some parts of the country, with drops of 40 or more degrees in a matter of hours. The storm is expected to become a bomb cyclone early Friday.
- The severe weather is causing travel chaos across the U.S.
Around 100 million people are under winter weather alerts. Thousands of flights have been canceled ahead of the Christmas holiday weekend.
Storm makes a mess of holiday travel
Southeast to face wind chills of 5 or 0 degrees
The city of Charleston, South Carolina, was among those opening warming centers as the southeastern U.S. braced for wind chill values as low as 0 degrees.
A swath of the South and the Southeast, including Georgia and the Carolinas, will be under wind chill advisories starting Friday.
In Charleston, warming centers have been opened for people to get out of the cold.
On Saturday, the temperatures are expected to approach an all-time low for Dec. 24 that was set in 1989, when the city’s airport recorded 16 degrees, said Douglas Berry, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Charleston.
The high in the city Saturday will be in the low-to-mid 30s — normally it’s around 62, he said.
Atlanta’s zoo will be closed starting Friday, and the city also opened warming centers through Tuesday. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency starting Wednesday. Hard freeze warnings also covered a swath of the South from Louisiana to northern Florida on Wednesday night.
More than 1,200 Friday flights scrubbed
More than 1,250 flights scheduled for Friday have been canceled in Midwestern or East Coast states amid a major winter, according to a flight-tracking site.
Some airports have already been battered by the storm, such as Chicago, and flights in other parts of the country have been canceled ahead of the anticipated cold temperatures and high winds.
More than 430 flights to or from Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports scheduled for Friday have been canceled, according to the website FlightAware.com.
LaGuardia Airport in New York City had a combined 308, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport had 293, and Boston Logan International Airport had 207, according to the site.
New York City is expected to get strong winds and heavy rain starting Thursday night and through Friday, according to the National Weather Service, and it could have a flash freeze.
The weather service in Boston is predicting torrential rain and damaging winds overnight and into Friday.
NHL postpones two Friday games because of weather
The NHL has postponed two hockey games scheduled for Friday, one in Canada and one in Buffalo, New York, because of a winter storm battering large parts of both countries.
The Detroit Red Wings’ game against the Ottawa Senators in Canada scheduled for Friday will instead be played Tuesday, the league announced Thursday.
On Wednesday, the NHL said Friday’s game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Buffalo Sabres will be postponed until March 4.
A blizzard warning is in effect for Buffalo starting at 7 a.m. Friday, the National Weather Service said. Around 3 feet of snow could fall, and winds could gust at 65 mph, it said. Wind chills are expected to reach as low as minus 20 degrees.
Thousands of Texans without power as cold, wind hit state
More than 58,000 Texas homes and businesses were without power Thursday evening as a winter storm with frigid temperatures and winds hit the state.
There were 58,498 customers without power at 6:30 p.m., according to the outage-tracking website poweroutage.us.
The power utility Oncor, which had over 19,000 customers without power, tweeted that crews are responding to weather events as quickly as they are able. Around 8,000 of its affected customers were in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to its website.
The main problem is the wind, Oncor spokesperson Kerri Dunn said. There have been sustained winds of 25 mph to 35 mph Thursday and gusts higher than that, she said. The utility covers around one-third of Texas, she said.
The state power grid manager, ERCOT, said on Twitter that it “has all available resources on-line or in reserve in preparation to meet electric demands.”
ERCOT was at the center of a controversy in February 2021 after a storm caused widespread outages that lasted days. ERCOT said it had to implement blackouts to prevent the grid from collapsing.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission called it “the largest manually controlled load shedding event in U.S. history." More than 200 people died, according to state officials.
On Thursday, an ERCOT spokesperson said that it did "expect sufficient generation to meet demand" for this storm.
It was 14 degrees, with a wind chill of minus 5 degrees, at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport just before 7 p.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
N.Y. governor: Travelers should make the trip before Friday
New Yorkers planning to leave town for Christmas should hit the road soon, Gov. Kathy Hochul urged Thursday as she declared a state of emergency ahead of a major winter storm.
“I encourage New Yorkers who are considering traveling for the holidays to do so before Friday or after Sunday to stay safe,” Hochul said in a statement.
Rapid temperature drops will cause flash freezing, and most of the state should expect 60-mph winds, she said.
New York State Police warned that high winds, whiteout conditions and freezing temperatures will make travel Friday and Saturday “highly dangerous.”
A commercial vehicle ban will be in place for Interstate 90 from Rochester to the Pennsylvania border starting at 6 a.m. Friday, the governor's office said.
500 crashes reported in Minnesota and Iowa
State authorities in Minnesota and Iowa responded to more than 570 crashes Thursday as a freezing winter storm brought ice and blizzard conditions to both states, officials said.
No deaths were reported. The Minnesota State Patrol reported 365 crashes and 220 spinouts or vehicles off the road from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There were 22 people hurt, none of them seriously.
The Iowa State Patrol said it had responded to 207 crashes by 5 p.m.
“Reminder, travel is NOT advised on MANY roads today in Iowa. Areas that look clear have layers of ICE causing slick road conditions,” the state patrol tweeted earlier Thursday.
Large parts of both states were under blizzard warnings Thursday. They were far from alone: Blizzard warnings also covered parts of the Dakotas, part of Wisconsin and western and northern Michigan.
More than 100 million people were under some kind of winter weather alert across the U.S., according to the National Weather Service.
Swan rescued from frozen lake in Michigan
Michigan law enforcement officers rescued an injured swan that had been trapped in a frozen lake 40 miles north of Detroit, in Orion Township.
A search-and-rescue team with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office used a watercraft and "a dose of TLC" to retrieve the swan from Voorheis Lake, the sheriff's office said in a statement.
Residents living near the lake reported seeing a swan in apparent distress Wednesday. On Thursday morning, sheriff's officials used a hovercraft to break the ice around the swan, then draped a blanket over its head and removed it from the lake.
The swan, which had an injured leg, was turned over to animal control for care.
"I am proud of their efforts and optimistic that an animal rehabilitator will be able to nurse this swan back to full health to be released," Sheriff Michael Bouchard said.
Iowa sports reporter goes viral after ranting about covering the blizzard
An Iowa sports reporter is going viral after he tweeted a montage of hilarious clips of his reluctant coverage of the blizzard.
"I normally do sports, and everything is canceled here for the next of couple of days, so what better time to ask the sports guys to come in about five hours earlier than he would normally wake up, go stand out in the wind and the snow and the cold and tell other people not to do the same," Mark Woodley of NBC affiliate KWWL of Waterloo, says in the video, which he posted to Twitter.
His post has gotten more than 15,000 likes since this morning. Director Judd Apatow, who retweeted the video, called Woodley a "legend."
“Of all the things that I thought I’d be known for in my life, crotchety old weather reporter was not on the list,” Woodley told NBC's "TODAY" show.
Storm leads to more than 2,200 flight cancellations nationwide
More than 2,200 flights have been canceled and nearly 7,000 others have been delayed as the winter storm continues to disrupt holiday travel and cause headaches for hundreds of thousands of passengers, according to FlightAware.
Many of the cancellations and delays are at two of the country's busiest airports.
Chicago O'Hare International Airport has reported at least 550 cancellations and more than 500 delays. Chicago Midway International Airport has had more than 250 cancellations and 73 delays.
Denver International Airport had recorded 565 cancellations and nearly 580 delays as of Thursday afternoon. And Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has had 468 flights delayed and 106 canceled.
More than 100 million people under winter alerts
More than 100 million people are under winter weather alerts, including 11 million under blizzard warnings, as a giant storm system dumps snow, heavy rain and ice across the U.S. In parts of the northern Plains and the northern Rockies, temperatures dropped by as much as 40 degrees in an hour, while parts of the Midwest have gotten heavy snow.
Powerful winds are also a cause for concern. Wind chill alerts have been issued for 143 million people from Washington state to Florida. From Minnesota to Maine, winds could exceed 70 mph through Saturday.
Forecasters have warned that road conditions could be dangerous because strong winds are blowing the snow. The wind also raises the risk of falling tree branches and power outages.
The storm is expected to cause coastal flooding, as well, especially on Long Island, New York, and in southern New England. Floods are also a risk around the Great Lakes. In total, 41 million people are under flood alerts.
More than 1,800 flights canceled as storm worsens
More than 1,800 flights to and from airports around the U.S. had been canceled as of Thursday afternoon, according to FlightAware.com. Nearly 4,000 flights within, to or out of the U.S. have been delayed.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport tweeted Thursday morning that airlines there had pre-emptively canceled nearly 470 flights.
School districts across the country cancel classes
Some school districts across the U.S. have announced closures Thursday and Friday as the large winter storm system brings snow, wind and freezing temperatures to much of the country. Schools in Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Virginia and Maryland were among the many that shut down Thursday in preparation for dangerous winter conditions.
Below are some of the districts canceling classes Friday:
- Syracuse City School District in New York
- Buffalo Public Schools in New York
- Beaver Dam Unified School District in Wisconsin
- Bloomfield Hills Schools in Michigan
- University of Northern Colorado
- Pittsburgh Public Schools in Pennsylvania
- Blooming Prairie Public Schools in Minnesota
Native American tribes announce mass closures on reservations
Native American reservations in several states have shut down offices and closed roads amid dangerous weather conditions, and are also grappling with supply shortages.
With temperatures dropping well below freezing in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota on Thursday, several tribal councils asked residents to stay home and off the roads.
The Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota issued a “no travel advisory” Wednesday due to cold weather and low visibility, after being pummeled with snow. The tribal council warned that immobilized vehicles on the road would be fined and removed in order to keep emergency routes clear.
Earlier this week, the reservation reported propane shortages, which in turn led water pipes to freeze and left families without heat or drinking water, according to KELO-TV in Sioux Falls.
“We’re running short on a lot of equipment,” Robert Oliver, the tribe’s emergency manager, told KELO. “Some of our equipment is breaking down. We have a lot of people out there who are needing propane, needing firewood, needing groceries.”
In western Montana, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation announced office and school district closures amid temperatures of minus 26 Thursday. Health clinics on the reservation were open with minimal staffing and reserved for emergencies.
Wood delivery and plowing were halted at the Blackfoot Reservation in Browning, Montana, due to severe wind chills and for “the safety of the staff.” The reservation closed its grocery store and casino early Wednesday.
The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in central North Dakota granted administrative leave to many “nonessential employees” Thursday due to the extreme weather.
In Pawhuska, Oklahoma, the Osage Nation closed tribal offices and health services Thursday.
When will the storm be most severe in your area?
Millions of people across the country will face heavy snow, strong winds and bone-chilling temperatures in the coming days. This is a partial list of where and when conditions are forecast to be the most severe:
- A "record-breaking cold air mass" is moving across the southern Plains on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. Gusts of up to 60 mph are likely to cause wind chills as low as minus 40 degrees across much of the Intermountain West.
- By Thursday evening, parts of Texas and the Gulf Coast are expected to experience temperatures in the single digits or teens. NBC News meteorologists say Dallas temperatures could drop below freezing for 72 hours, with the lowest wind chill of minus 6 degrees coming late Thursday.
- The Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes region will see snow and strong winds Thursday and Friday. The lowest wind chill expected in Chicago is around minus 30 degrees, and the city's strongest wind gusts could reach 50 mph Friday morning.
- Washington, D.C., is expected to get heavy rain Thursday afternoon and evening, then a flash freeze Friday morning and its strongest winds in the afternoon.
- In New York City, heavy rain is forecast to fall late Thursday into Friday morning. The city will likely experience its strongest winds Friday morning, with gusts up to 50 mph, then a flash freeze in the afternoon.
- And in Orlando, temperatures are predicted to drop to 31 degrees Saturday morning with wind chills in the low 20s.
What is a snow squall?
Cities across the country faced snow squall warnings Thursday. This winter weather phenomenon is characterized by sudden whiteout conditions that make it difficult to see, according to the National Weather Service. Snow squalls move quickly and are often associated with strong cold fronts and low temperatures.
Snow squalls usually last less than an hour but are particularly dangerous for motorists. Because of the snow accumulation, strong winds, falling temperatures and low visibility, traffic accidents are common in these conditions.
Numerous snow squall warnings have been issued. The Wichita, Kansas, area was under a warning until 10 a.m. local time. The snow squall warning for Bartlesville, Oklahoma, lasted until 10:15 a.m. local time. And in Rapid City, South Dakota, forecasters issued a warning until 2 p.m. local time.
'Please take this storm seriously,' Biden pleads
President Joe Biden on Thursday urged people who are under threat from “dangerous, threatening” weather to heed local warnings.
In remarks shortly before a briefing with FEMA and the National Weather Service, he said he has tried to contact 26 governors whose states are affected by the extreme weather.
Biden stressed this is “not like a snow day when you are a kid” and urged the public to “please take this storm seriously.”
“If you have travel plans, leave now — not a joke,” the president said, adding that he advised his staff to do so as well.
Storm leaves South Dakota motorists stranded, causes nearly 50 crashes in Minnesota
Minnesota authorities responded to nearly 50 vehicle crashes between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, according to its State Patrol. Four people were injured but no deaths have been reported. Wet roadways also caused 118 vehicle spinouts and a crash involving a semi-truck, the State Patrol said.
In South Dakota, the winter storm system left some motorists stranded on city streets, according to the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office. Workers removed people from their cars throughout the night. A photo from the agency showed people sleeping on makeshift beds on the floor of a building.
114 million people are under winter weather alerts
As the giant storm system sweeps across the United States, 114 million people are under winter weather alerts, and blizzard warnings are in effect for portions of eight states.
More than 120 million people are under wind chill alerts. Forecasters said temperatures in some areas have dropped more than 30 degrees in a matter of minutes. By the time the weather system has moved through, an estimated 192 million people across 46 states will have experienced wind chills below zero.
Residents of parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and the Plains woke up Thursday morning to snow, while areas to the southeast up into Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania were hit with a messy wintry mix and heavy rain.
As the storm moves across the northern Ohio Valley, it is expected to become a bomb cyclone.
Weather forecasters warn that heavy rain could cause coastal flooding in cities including Boston and New York. A flood warning is in effect in New York City from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday, while Boston is under a warning from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.
NHL cancels game because of 'severe winter storm'
Friday's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Buffalo Sabres has been postponed because of the "severe winter storm," the NHL said in a statement.
The game will instead be played at Buffalo's KeyBank Center on March 4, the statement said.
Atlanta to open warming centers
Atlanta is set to open two emergency warming centers due to the impending drop in temperatures. The locations will open Thursday at 8 p.m. and remain open until Tuesday morning.
Holiday postal deliveries on track for Christmas despite delays
WASHINGTON — With just days to go until Christmas, the U.S. Postal Service says it is on track to meet its holiday delivery deadlines, despite worker shortages across the country that have caused delays and disruptions to mail and package deliveries in the run-up to the holidays.
The Postal Service expects all priority mail packages shipped by Dec. 19 and express packages shipped by Dec. 23 to arrive at their destinations by Christmas. The agency said on-time deliveries have increased from last year, with nearly 92% of first-class letters arriving within one to five days. Around 96% of packages have been getting to their destinations on time this month, according to the independent data firm Shipmatrix.
It’s a vast improvement from where the Postal Service was at this time two years ago, when a wave of Covid infections, a surge in online shopping and operational issues resulted in weeks of delays for holiday packages.
Heavy snowfall in Brooklyn Center, Minn.
Travel will be 'dangerous' in the Great Lakes region, forecasters warn
Land and air travel will be “dangerous” and “at times impossible,” in the Great Lakes region leading up to the holiday weekend, the National Weather Service warned Thursday.
Snowfall could exceed a foot, the weather service said in a bulletin, adding that “wind gusts of over 50 mph will result in near-zero visibility and considerable blowing and drifting of snow.”
“This will lead to dangerous, to at times impossible, land and air travel leading up to the holiday weekend,” the bulletin said.
Near-blizzard conditions reported in Kansas
Record temperature drop recorded at Denver International Airport
Temperatures in Denver are expected to sink below zero by Thursday morning, the National Weather Service has warned.
Forecasters reported that the temperature Wednesday plummeted by 37 degrees in one hour at Denver International Airport — from 42 F to 5 F — a record drop at that location.
“That’s the kind of changes that are going to be occurring as this front pushes southward: rapid temperature drops, sometimes 50 or more degrees colder than the previous day,” said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the weather service. “It’s a pretty powerful, powerful system.”
Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois to face winter blast Thursday
Green Bay, Wisconsin; St. Louis; and Chicago could be among the major cities most affected Thursday by a freezing winter storm that is blanketing large parts of the country, according to forecasters.
Memphis, Tennessee, and Little Rock, Arkansas, could get rain and snow Thursday afternoon and evening, and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City could get heavy rain, according to NBC News’ Climate Unit.
Freezing temperatures have already been felt farther west. Snow began falling in Minnesota on Wednesday. From 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, there were more than 200 vehicle crashes and 189 spinouts, the State Patrol said. There were no deaths.
More than 59 million people, including most of Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota east to parts of Ohio, were under winter storm warnings Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service.
Another 7 million were under blizzard warnings, and wind chill warnings covered 57 million people, as far west as Washington state and including Texas and Tennessee, according to the agency. A low of 11 degrees was forecast for Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday. The wind chill will make it feel worse.
Airlines have pledged to waive change fees or to take other steps to help passengers in anticipation of travel disruptions.
More than 100 cars are stuck in South Dakota, authorities say
Authorities in South Dakota were helping more than 100 drivers who were stranded when an arctic front blasted the region with subzero temperatures and near-blizzard conditions, officials said.
The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office said the motorists were stuck between Rapid City and Wall. It told drivers to stay in their vehicles and call 911.