Arctic air from a winter storm system engulfed much of the East Coast on Friday, causing power outages and snarling holiday travel with heavy snow, blizzard conditions and dangerously cold temperatures.
It’s the the same system that already has been blamed for three deaths and has produced temperatures so cold that a Montana National Weather Service office said one of its thermometers stopped working. The Elk Park, Montana, temperature sensor hit its lowest temperature: minus 50 degrees, the weather service office said Thursday.
Cities across the South, including Nashville, recorded temperatures as low as minus 1 degree early Friday – the lowest Music City has seen in nearly 27 years.
About 150 million people across the country face dangerous wind chills in the days leading up to Christmas, according to weather service data Friday that tracks wind chill warnings and advisories.
“Over 200 million people, or roughly 60% of the U.S. population, are under some form of winter weather warnings or advisories across the U.S. today,” the weather service said Friday morning.
What defines a blizzard? Heavy snow and high winds expected to sweep across country.
Huge swaths of the nation on Friday felt minimum wind chill temperatures in the negative double digits and will continue to see them in the coming days, according to the weather service.
The weather service reported Friday morning that as the “powerful” cold front continues to head toward the East Coast, many states saw temperatures more than 30 degrees colder than Thursday’s temperatures.
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“This is not like a snow day when you were a kid,” President Joe Biden said after a briefing from federal officials Thursday. “This is serious stuff.”
A weather phenomenon known as a bomb cyclone, essentially a winter hurricane. developed Friday in areas including the Great Lakes, which is expected to worsen blizzard conditions.
Meanwhile, governors in at least 12 states have declared emergency measures.
A band of heavy lake-effect snow descended over western New York from Buffalo to Niagara County Friday afternoon causing “zero mile” visibility.
The weather service in Buffalo reported that heavy, blowing snow and wind gusts over 60 mph created near whiteout conditions. It shared a video showing the “spectacular view of our parking lot” — nothing but blowing snow was visible.
In addition to relentless winds, 2 to 3 feet of total snow is possible across the region. Temperatures continued to plummet from about 40 degrees down to 10 degrees at the Buffalo airport with wind chills in the negative digits.
The weather service also advised the public to avoid travel.
“Don’t focus too much on the snow totals… Significant blowing and drifting will be occurring. Avoid travel!” the weather service in Buffalo said Friday afternoon.
So what does “zero mile” visibility look like? Well, here’s a spectacular view of our parking lot near the airport. Yes, there are cars parked just a few feet away.
— NWS Buffalo (@NWSBUFFALO) December 23, 2022
Michigan State Police on Friday warned travelers to stay off the roads.
“Most roads are icy and impacted by blowing snow, which is causing low visibility,” police posted on Facebook. “If travel is not necessary, please stay home.”
State police also reported a semitractor trailer crash in the area.
The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids also warned motorists to stay put, especially those in West Michigan communities near Lake Michigan.
According to the weather service, winds gusting over 35 mph were creating blizzard conditions, including falling and blowing snow. The weather service also said temperatures were below zero in the south and in the teens up north.
Things will look “only slightly better” Saturday, the weather service said.
All bus service was suspended in the greater Seattle area Friday morning because of an ice storm that made travel treacherous. Sea-Tac International Airport closed two of three runways.
King County Metro said buses were unable to leave bases because of “deteriorating and unsafe road conditions.” The agency said it hoped it would be able to run buses later Friday. In Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties, authorities also halted bus service.
The Pacific Northwest has shivered under extreme cold for several days. Forecasters said the freezing rain, which is affecting western Washington and Oregon, was occurring as temperatures started to rise and a storm moved through. The warm-up will be quick; forecasters said temperatures could reach the 50s in Seattle by Christmas.
The storm, also pummeling parts of Canada, intensified on Friday into a bomb cyclone, the National Weather Service reported. The agency said the atmospheric pressure of the storm dropped rapidly enough over the past 24 hours to classify the system that way.
John Moore, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the central pressure of the system had fallen rapidly and was expected to continue dropping over the next few hours.
Bomb cyclones are intense winter storms with high winds, heavy blizzards and subzero temperatures created through a process known as bombogenesis.
Blizzard warnings are in effect in areas including the Great Lakes region, where snowfall was expected to combine with powerful winds to create whiteout conditions.
After high numbers on Thursday, more than 3,600 U.S. flights were canceled and over 2,400 more were delayed Friday as of 10:15 a.m. ET, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.
About 40% of all flights out of Seattle-Tacoma International and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airports had been canceled as of midday. Southwest Airlines’ schedule was affected the most, with nearly 800 flights taken off the schedule for the day.
Airlines have issued waivers in much of the Midwest, Northeast and even parts of the South for some carriers.
Bomb cyclones are powerful winter storms: Here’s a visual breakdown of how they’re created.
Dangerous cold temperatures & winds will continue to affect and spread eastward through the day from the Rockies, the south, Midwest, Great Lakes & advancing across the eastern seaboard. This graphic is the forecast apparent temperature at 1 PM EST today. https://t.co/VyWINDk3xP pic.twitter.com/trOqw6c6Lt
— National Weather Service (@NWS) December 23, 2022
The temperature at the Nashville International Airport dropped to minus 1 Friday morning, marking the first time in more than 25 years the city saw temperatures that low.
By 6 a.m. local time, the wind chill registered minus 19 degrees.
“This is the first time we’ve been below zero since 2/5/1996 (when it dropped to minus 3 degrees). However, the record low for this date is -8°F (1989),” the National Weather Service in Nashville tweeted.
The temperature at Nashville has dropped to -1°F. This is the first time we’ve been below zero since 2/5/1996. However, the record low for this date is -8°F (1989), so that’s safe.
— NWS Nashville (@NWSNashville) December 23, 2022
Meanwhile, more than 36,000 Nashville Electric Company customers were without power as of about 12:15 p.m.
“Crews are doing everything they can to restore power,” the company tweeted. “They have been working around the clock.”
Kevin Doom, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chicago, said the area didn’t get a ton of snow overnight – maybe 1 to 3 inches.
“We didn’t get a whole lot of snow, but the wind combined with the snow, that’s really the concern,” he told USA TODAY. “And that continues on into today, even though we’re not really expecting much additional snowfall.”
The weather service was also seeing wind gusts close to 50 mph, so what little snow did fall was getting “blown around really easily,” Doom said.
In Texas, more than 77,000 people were without power late Friday morning.
The power company wrote on its website that thousands of electrical facilities, including stations and main feeder lines, had thorough air and ground inspections Thursday to prepare for high demand and cold temperatures.
“Our crews are ready to respond and will work around the clock to get the lights back on as quickly and safely as possible – even on holidays,” the power company wrote.
The energy company said it would work to restore service as soon as possible.
In Iowa, the National Weather Service predicted storm weather Thursday night and Friday will intensify, with an “explosive deepening” of the storm’s low-pressure system Friday night.
Far from the storm’s disruptions to airports, highways and city bustle, life went on pretty much as usual despite the cold and snow in the rural western Iowa town of Soldier, where it’s typical for neighbors to help one another out in winter storms.
That means residents moving from house to house, clearing driveways and sidewalks after a big storm, putting together church potlucks and making sure those who need a trip to the doctor have rides.
— The Des Moines Register
Meteorologists define wind chill as how cold it feels while outdoors, and it’s based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the wind-and-cold combination, according to the National Weather Service. Increased wind draws heat from the body, which then lowers the temperature of the skin and internal body.
“Frostbite may develop on exposed skin in as few as 10-20 mins, and hypothermia can quickly develop if you’re not dressed for the cold,” weather service experts in Chicago warned Thursday.
Contributing: The Associated Press