Power cuts and travel misery in US and Canada amid freezing winter storm

Source: The Guardian; BCC; The Straits Times; CNN; Reuters
Date: 22nd December 2022

More than a million people were in darkness and thousands of flights were canceled amid lows with a wind chill of -55F (-48C).

More than a million people in the US are in the dark after a “bomb cyclone” winter storm struck the country, closing highways, grounding flights and causing misery for Christmas travellers.

Heavy snow, howling winds and air so frigid it instantly turned boiling water into ice took hold of much of the country, including normally temperate southern states.

More than 200 million Americans were under weather warnings, as wind chills sent temperatures down as low as -55F (-48C), according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

The biting cold is an immediate concern for hundreds of thousands of electricity customers who were without power, according to the tracker poweroutage.us.

Major, the Chicago area commander for the Salvation Army, said the organisation had centres open for people to shelter from the fierce weather.

In Canada, last-minute holiday shoppers in central Toronto shrugged off the plunging temperatures.

Transport departments in North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa and elsewhere reported near-zero-visibility whiteouts, ice-covered roads and blizzard conditions, and strongly urged residents to stay home.

At least two traffic fatalities were reported in Oklahoma on Thursday. The governor of Kentucky confirmed three in his state.

In Ohio, a 50-vehicle pile-up left at least one person dead, according to local media, while in Michigan an accident involving nine tractor-trailers snarled traffic.

Drivers were being told not to take to the roads, as the country reached what is usually its busiest time of year for travel.

“This is an epic, statewide hazard,” the New York governor, said at a press briefing. “The roads are going to be like an ice skating rink and your tires cannot handle this.”

About 5,000 US flights were canceled on 23rd December and another 7,600 were delayed, according to the tracking website FlightAware, many at international hubs in New York, Seattle and Chicago’s O’Hare.

The knock-on effects were spreading misery even to travelers arriving in balmy Los Angeles.

By the 23rd of December afternoon, the storm had acquired the status of a “bomb cyclone” after air pressure dropped precipitously over 24 hours.

Bomb cyclones produce heavy rain or snow. They can also cause flooding at coasts, and generate hurricane-force winds.

A meteorologist in Toronto, tweeted that waves of up to 26ft (eight meters) had been reported in Lake Erie, while in Ohio’s Fairport Harbor, winds gusted to 74mph (120km/h), the NWS tweeted.

The lead forecaster for the NWS in Glasgow, Montana, where wind chill plunged to -60F overnight, said the weather was extremely dangerous.

“With these kinds of wind chills, if you’re not wearing those warm layers … unprotected skin can get frostbite in less than five minutes,” he said.

Conditions were cold enough for people to post videos of themselves carrying out the “boiling water challenge”, in which boiling water is thrown into the air and instantly freezes.

“We created our own cloud @ -17° F (-27° C) at the #Missoula International Airport,” tweeted NWS Missoula in Montana.

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