An enormous storm is battering a vast swath of the U.S. and Canada, knocking out power to more than 1.4 million homes and businesses, grounding thousands of flights and dashing hopes for delivery of last-minute holiday gifts.
Power outages span more 25 states, from Maine to Texas. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to several states, ordered rolling blackouts to cope with overwhelming demand as millions of people turned up heaters amid the cold. U.S. flight cancellations over the past two days reached 7,000 Friday afternoon as disruptions pile up from the Pacific Northwest to East Coast hubs, according to tracking site FlightAware.
While it’s packing plenty of snow and frigid temperatures, the storm is mostly noteworthy for its size and speed. Snow, blizzard, freezes and flood warnings and advisories stretch across central and eastern U.S., its northern fringe and the Deep South, as well as into Canada. Its speedy march across the continent is causing violent temperature swings. New York City was 55 degrees F at dawn. By 10 p.m., it’s forecast to be around 10.
More than 200 million Americans — around 60% of the country — were under some form of winter weather warning or advisory Friday, according to the National Weather Service. Heavy snow is set to blanket the Great Lakes region and parts of northern New York and New England, with bitter cold following a front that is now pushing into Pennsylvania and the Appalachian Mountains.
“This is a once in a 20- to 30-year type storm,” said Rich Otto, a forecaster at the US Weather Prediction Center.
The storm has intensified while sweeping east to achieve the status of a “bomb cyclone” — when its central pressure rapidly plunges — and is now centered over southwestern Ontario in Canada. Canadians are dealing with their own travel woes and power outages due to the severe weather, including canceled flights in the country’s busiest airports.
Airports in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo and Seattle were taking the brunt of the impacts with airlines scrapping between one-third and two-thirds of operations, FlightAware reported. Southwest Airlines Co. and Alaska Air Group Inc. were the worst-hit, with 45% of each carrier’s schedule scrubbed on Friday.
Amtrak canceled some trains in the Midwest and northern New England.
The storm has created “substantial disruptions” at FedEx Express hubs in Memphis and Indianapolis, potentially delaying holiday packages from arriving by Christmas, the shipping company said in a statement.
The worst of the power outages Friday afternoon were in North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, New York and Maine according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks utility websites. The number of homes in the dark is apt to climb as the storm and its vicious winds move further east.
In Texas, where the wind chill brought temperatures down to single digits in some areas, residents cranked up heaters so much that the state’s grid set a record for winter power use. The cold also halted more than 1.6 million barrels a day of oil-refining capacity in the state and forced the two largest US refineries — Motiva Port Arthur and Marathon Galveston Bay — to stop producing.
In New York State, the storm brought coastal flooding up to 3 feet along Long Island, while ice and high winds closed roads in and around Buffalo as well as the city’s airport. Governor Kathy Hochul urged people across the state to ride out the storm at home and stay off the roads.
“I call it a kitchen-sink storm, because it’s throwing everything at us,” she said Friday at a press conference. “This is a life-threatening, dangerous event. Protect yourselves, protect your families — do not travel.”
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