Tens of millions of Americans endured bone-chilling temperatures, blizzard conditions, power outages and cancelled travel plans ahead of the Christmas holiday weekend, as a rare bomb cyclone extreme winter weather phenomenon was forecast amid unprecedented a winter storm that forecasters said was nearly unprecedented in its scope.
More than 200 million people -- around 60% of the population -- were under an advisory or warning on Friday, the National Weather Service said. The weather service's map “depicts one of the greatest extents of winter weather warnings and advisories ever,” forecasters said.
Power outages have left about 1.4 million homes and businesses in the dark, according to the website PowerOutage, which tracks utility reports. Utilities in Nashville, Memphis and throughout the Tennessee Valley said they were implementing rolling blackouts Friday to conserve power as the region battles an extreme cold front.
And more than 4,600 flights within, into or out of the US were canceled Friday, according to the tracking site FlightAware, causing more mayhem as travelers try to make it home for the holidays.
“We’ve just got to stay positive. Anger is not going to help us at all,” said Wendell Davis, who plays basketball with a team in France and was waiting at O’Hare in Chicago on Friday after a series of flight cancellations.
After his flight to Cincinnati was canceled Friday afternoon, Davis was considering renting a car and driving to Columbus, since train service was suspended. But first he was trying to locate his luggage.
The huge storm stretched from border to border. In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights Friday at Toronto Pearson International Airport, beginning at 09:00 (16:00 CET).
Forecasters said a bomb cyclone -- when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm -- had developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.
Even though fleets of snow plows and salt trucks have been deployed, driving was hazardous and sometimes deadly. The Kansas Highway Patrol said three people were killed in separate vehicle collisions in northern Kansas this week. The collisions occurred Wednesday evening as bitter cold and snow was moving through the region. The drivers involved in the collisions lost control of their vehicles on icy roads.
In Kansas City, Missouri, a driver died Thursday after skidding into a creek. Meanwhile, state police in Michigan said reported multiple crashes Friday, including a pileup involving nine semitrailers.
Activists also were rushing to get the homeless out of the cold. Nearly 170 adults and children were keeping warm early Friday in Detroit at a shelter and a warming center that are designed to hold 100 people.
“This is a lot of extra people” but “you can’t” turn anyone away, said Faith Fowler, the executive director of Cass Community Social Services, which runs both facilities.
In Portland, Oregon, officials opened five emergency shelters. Fallen trees and power lines have closed roads across the Portland metro area. And nearly 80 kilometres of Interstate 84, a major highway through the Columbia River Gorge, were closed Friday morning.
All bus service was suspended in the greater Seattle area Friday morning. And DoorDash suspended delivery service because of hazardous conditions in parts of several states, including Minnesota and Iowa.
In South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem late Thursday activated the state’s National Guard to haul firewood from the Black Hills Forest Service to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe as some members were stranded in their homes with dwindling fuel.
Other tribes also were struggling, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe in the western part of the state, which was using snowmobiles to reach members who live at the end of miles-long dirt roads.
But with the vehicles breaking down in the 10-foot drifts, officials were considering using horses to deliver essentials to some homes as they sought help from federal officials.
“It’s been one heck of a fight so far,” said tribal President Frank Star Comes Out.
In eastern Iowa, sports broadcaster Mark Woodley became a Twitter sensation after he was called on to do live stand ups in the wind and snow because sporting events were called off. By midday Friday, a compilation of his TV stand-ups had been viewed nearly 5 million times on Twitter.
“I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news," he told an anchor. “The good news is that I can still feel my face right now. The bad news is, I kind of wish I couldn’t.”