An icy onehas swept across the country, cutting off power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses and putting millions of people on edge over possible power outages over the Christmas holiday weekend.
The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, New York, with hurricane force winds causing whiteout conditions. Emergency response was paralyzed and the city’s international airport was closed.
CBS News has confirmed at least 20 weather-related deaths from the storm across the country. At least three people died in the Buffalo area, including two who suffered medical emergencies at their homes and could not be rescued because emergency responders were unable to reach them in historic snowstorm conditions.
As millions of Americans traveled ahead of Christmas, more than 3,400 flights within, to or from the United States were canceled on Saturday and another 1,300 as of 7 a.m. ET Sunday, according to tracking site FlightAware. Airlines were catching up on crew shortages and deicing slowed the return to normal, CBS News correspondent Naomi Ruchim reported. In Seattle, an ice storm paralyzed several runways.
At least 345,000 customers across the country were without power as of Saturday night, according to outage tracking site PowerOutage.us. Of these, more than 170,000 were in the New England area.
Deep snow, single-digit temperatures and days of power outages had Buffalo residents scrambling from their homes Saturday to go somewhere hot. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Buffalo Niagara International Airport will be closed through Monday morning and nearly every fire engine in the city was stranded in the snow.
“No matter how many emergency vehicles we have, they cannot survive the conditions as we speak,” Hochul said.
Forecasters said 28 inches of snow had already accumulated in Buffalo as of Saturday – part of an area where 6 feet had fallen, resulting in three deaths. More is expected overnight.
Erie County Executive Secretary Mark Poloncarz said the blizzard could be “the worst storm in our community’s history.” He said it took ambulances more than three hours to make a trip to a hospital. Plows were on the roads, but big snowdrifts, abandoned cars, and downed power lines slowed progress.
Blinding snowstorms, freezing rain and freezing cold also saw power outages in places from Maine to Seattle, while a major power grid operator warned the 65 million people it serves in the eastern United States that rolling blackouts could occur.
Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection said power plants are struggling to operate in the cold weather and has asked residents in 13 states to conserve electricity at least until Christmas morning. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies electricity to 10 million people in the state and parts of six surrounding ones, directed local energy companies to implement planned outages but ended the measure Saturday afternoon. The start of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans game in Nashville was delayed by an hour due to a planned power outage.
PJM Interconnection, which covers all or portions of 13 states and Washington, DC, also warned that rolling blackouts could be required.
In North Carolina, 169,000 customers were without power as of Saturday afternoon, down from a peak of more than 485,000, but utility officials said rolling blackouts would continue “over the next few days.”
Among those without power was Greensboro’s James Reynolds, who said his roommate, a 70-year-old with diabetes and severe arthritis, spent the morning curled up next to a kerosene heater with inside temperatures “soaring in the 50s.”
In Jackson, Mississippi,the city’s water system – which Late August – experienced ‘fluctuating’ pressure on Saturday afternoon amid cold temperatures.
Some residents of the Mississippi capital could experience temporary low water pressure, officials warned. Ahead of the “arctic blast” that brought dangerously cold air to Jackson, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba warned that the city’s water distribution system remains a “huge weakness.”
Ticket prices at Chicago’s Soldier Field fell faster than the temperature on Saturday, and some seats cost $10 on third-party sites to see the bearsthe Buffalo Bills. The temperature at kick-off was 9 degrees, at minus 12 . It was Buffalo’s coldest road game by temperature since at least 1967.
It’s been minus 40 degrees or worse in Montana for most of the week, and ranchers have been scrambling to protect their livestock.
Four died in a pile-up involving around 50 vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike on Friday. A Kansas City, Missouri driver was killed Thursday after sliding into a creek and three others died in separate accidents on icy roads in northern Kansas on Wednesday.
A utility worker in Ohio was also killed on Friday while trying to restore power, a company said. The Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative said the 22-year-old died in an “electrical contact incident” near Pedro, Lawrence County.
A woman in Vermont died at a hospital Friday after a tree fell in high winds and fell on her. Colorado Springs police said they found the body of a person who appeared homeless as sub-zero temperatures and snow fell across the region. In Madison, Wisconsin, a 57-year-old woman died Friday after falling through ice on a river, the Rock County Sheriff’s Office said.
In Lansing, Michigan, an 82-year-old woman died after being found curled up in the snow outside her assisted living community on Friday morning, Bath Township police reported. A snow plow driver found the woman at temperatures around 10 degrees.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said one person died in a traffic accident attributed to western Kentucky weather and a homeless man died in Louisville.
Along Interstate 71 in Kentucky, Terry Henderson and her husband Rick were stuck in a massive traffic jam caused by multiple accidents for 34 hours. The truck drivers endured the wait in a truck fitted with a diesel heater, toilet and refrigerator, but still regretted trying to drive from Alabama to their home near Akron, Ohio, over Christmas.
“I wish we should have stayed,” said Terry Henderson after they set off again on Saturday. “We should have sat.”
The storm was nearly unprecedented in magnitude, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some type of winter weather alert or warning, and temperatures dropped drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachian Mountains, the National Weather Service said.
In Mexico, migrants have been camping out near the US border in unseasonably cold temperatures while awaiting a US Supreme Court decision on pandemic-era restrictions preventing many from seeking asylum. dozens of migrantson the streets of the Texas border town of El Paso in freezing temperatures waiting for shelters to open. Most wore donated winter clothing provided by caring local residents and volunteers.
Forecasters said a— when atmospheric pressure drops very rapidly in a strong storm — had been developing near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including violent winds and snow.
Western New York often experiences dramatic lake-effect snow, created by cool air absorbing moisture from the warm water and then releasing it onto land. But even local residents found the conditions on Christmas Eve dire.
Latricia Stroud said she and her two daughters, 1 and 12, have been stranded at their Buffalo home with no heat or electricity since Friday afternoon because the snow was too deep to exit.
“I have to walk over a snowdrift to get out,” Stroud told the AP. “There’s a warm-up center, I just need a ride to get there.”