A major arctic blast is dropping temperatures to dangerous levels across much of the country, and a developing “bomb cyclone” will unload heavy snow and blizzard conditions Thursday and Friday, especially in the Midwest — a combination that makes dangerous Days to Christmas.
Cold air and storms are affecting nearly every state in some way: More than 110 million people from coast to coast received winter snow or icy weather warnings Thursday morning, the National Weather Service said.
More than 150 million people—nearly half the U.S. population— Wind chill warnings are in place from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, from Washington state to Florida, with sub-zero wind chill as far south as Texas on Thursday morning and expected to reach the Southeast by Friday.
“By Friday, life-threatening wind chills over the Great Plains will sweep across the eastern United States,” the Weather Center said, with wind chills dropping below minus 50 degrees in parts of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming over the past two days.
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Some low temperature records were set in the West and South on Thursday morning, and in some cases, they fell at record-breaking rates this week: Denver International Airport plunged 37 degrees in an hour on Wednesday, setting an initial record high The one-hour drop is there, according to National Weather Service.
Snow, meanwhile, has been battering parts of the west and is expected to fall across much of the country’s east over the next two days.
The Midwest and the Great Lakes region in particular are developing a major snowstorm — heavy to moderate snowfall — but strong winds could create impossible travel conditions.
A “significant snowfall rate” of 1 to 2 inches per hour, “along with wind gusts in excess of 50 mph will result in near-zero visibility and significant amounts of blown and drifted snow,” the forecast center said.
The storm is expected to become a “bomb cyclone” — a rapidly intensifying storm that reduces pressure over 24 hours — from Thursday night to Friday, reaching the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane as it enters the Great Lakes. It could be a “once-in-a-generation event,” a forecaster with the Weather Service’s Buffalo office wrote Tuesday, noting that such intensification doesn’t occur often in the lower Great Lakes.
Buffalo and surrounding communities are under a blizzard warning at 7 a.m. Friday, where 1 to 3 feet of snow and wind gusts of 70 mph are possible, according to the National Weather Service.
More than 2,200 flights were canceled across the U.S. on Thursday, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware, as air travel struggles during the busy holiday season. Airlines canceled more than 1,000 U.S. flights scheduled to depart on Friday.
In South Dakota, the 340-mile stretch of Interstate 90 from Rapid City to Sioux Falls was closed in both directions Thursday morning due to snowstorm-like conditions, officials said. SayNear-zero visibility also closed many highways between Colorado and Wyoming on Wednesday.
Even Florida wasn’t immune, with residents of the Sunshine State expecting a plunge in temperatures on Friday. Some cities in the South — including Nashville and Memphis — are expecting snow on Thursday.
Meanwhile, parts of the Northeast, including Washington and Philadelphia, could experience flooding as rain hit the region on Thursday before temperatures plunged overnight and brought a “snap freeze.”
President Joe Biden was at the White House on Thursday morning for a weather briefing from the National Weather Service and FEMA. He encouraged Americans to heed warnings from local officials and stay safe amid the extreme cold.
“This is really a very severe weather alert,” Biden said, adding that the White House had contacted 26 governors in affected areas.
In pictures: Winter storms affecting the US
• Snow fell from Oklahoma to Michigan early Thursday afternoon.
• Snow and strong winds are expected to result in poor travel conditions from eastern Montana and the northern Plains to the Midwest and upstate New York.
• Blizzard warnings — meaning snow and 35-mph winds that often reduce visibility to less than a quarter of a mile for at least three hours — were in effect Thursday morning for some of those areas, including Minneapolis Southwest, south of Minneapolis and east of Chicago, west and north of Michigan.
• Major cities include Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis.Lewis, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Columbus Both Detroit and Detroit are under winter storm warnings.
• More than 30 states from Washington to Florida issued wind chill warnings, watches and advisories on Thursday.
• The Arctic front will push south into the Gulf of Mexico and sweep across the East Coast late Friday, bringing chills to the Deep South.
• Daytime temperatures are likely to remain below freezing in the northern Plains on Thursday and only slightly above that level in the central Plains.
• Areas farther south — Texas and the Gulf Coast — will see temperatures in the single digits and high teens Thursday night, the Storm Prediction Center said.
• Officials in several southern states warned residents to take precautions. Alabama’s emergency management agency said Thursday and Friday could see “the coldest December air mass to hit the state since 1989.” Lows in the state are expected to range from single digits in the north to the low 20s in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday.
• Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday asked residents to check in on friends and family who may be struggling with the frigid temperatures. Lows are expected to be in the teens and twenties on Friday and Saturday.
• Regardless of the date on the calendar, two Wyoming locations set early Thursday records for the coldest temperatures ever recorded at a given location. Those new records were minus 41 degrees in Casper and minus 29 degrees in Riverton.
• Elsewhere in the west and south recorded the coldest temperatures of any year on Dec. 22 on Thursday. These included several places in Montana (including minus 34 degrees at Boseman and minus 20 degrees at East Cut Bank); Grable, Wyoming (-26); East Rapid City, South Dakota (minus 18); Arkansas Ketchikan Airport (3); and three places in Washington State, including -20 degrees in Pullman.