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Huge winter storm upsets air traffic and threatens commodities

Indiana National Guard Humvees roll out from the South Bend Armory, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. (Pfc. Hannah Clifton/DVIDS)

A monster winter storm is driving frigid weather across the Great Plains and Texas and threatening livestock there, while airline disruptions are mounting during the busy travel period.

Snow, blizzard, freezes and flood warnings and advisories now stretch from Washington state to Maine and down to the Gulf of Mexico coast. The first major U.S. winter storm and arctic blast has descended as millions take to the road and air before Christmas.

While New York and other East Coast cities won’t have to contend with snow, high winds coupled with a new moon — which affects tides — raises the risk of coastal flooding from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Maine. The cold snap is also boosting energy usage as heating demand rises.

“It is a really impressive system,” said Ashton Robinson Cook, a forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. “It is something that happens only every one or two decades. I haven’t seen anything like this in a few years.”

The cold is shaking energy and commodities, while snow and wind are upsetting travel when 112.7 million people are set to travel at least 50 miles or more through Jan. 2, according to automotive group AAA. The adverse weather will make conditions difficult for air traffic, including in key U.S. air hub Chicago.

As of early Thursday, more than 1,200 flights into and around the U.S. had been canceled, with the majority of those in Chicago and Denver, according to airline tracking service FlightAware. Several airlines have waved fees for those looking to rebook.

The cold had pushed across the Plains into the Midwest and Texas, and was likely to set nearly 80 records mostly for low daily maximum temperatures across the country, said Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center. Some places could see the mercury hit minus 65F (minus 54C), which can kill exposed people and livestock.

In Texas, where the state’s electric grid was battered by cold early last year, the chill should peak from late Thursday to Saturday and start to moderate early next week, said Chenard. For many places the snow from the storm won’t be that extreme, but high winds will be a problem, he said.

In Chicago, only 4 to 6 inches of snow is forecast, but it will be driven by gusts up to 50 miles per hour that will cut visibility and bring chilly conditions. New York will mainly see rain starting later Thursday.

Friday night readings will drop to 15F in New York’s Central Park. Wind advisories and warnings reach from northern New Jersey to northern Maine and there’s risk of moderate coastal flooding from Virginia and throughout New England.


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