A massive 'hurricane bomb' hit the US with life-threatening cold weather as the holidays begin

More than 60% of the US is facing a winter weather warning, with temperatures drastically below normal in many places

A wild winter storm engulfed much of the US on Saturday, bringing blizzards, freezing rain, flooding and intense cold temperatures to near record lows. More than a dozen deaths were caused by the storm. Leisure travel and utilities were disrupted, with some 1.4 million homes and businesses left without power in the afternoon.

Forecasters say the storm, a "bomb cyclone" or "bombogenesis", is caused by the collision of cold, dry air from the north and warm, moist air from the south.

More than 200 million people are under some form of winter advisory or warning in "one of the largest winter weather warnings and advisories ever", said the National Weather Service.

As the system pushed south into Texas, many faced their coldest Christmas Eve in decades. The storm, named Elliott, knocked down power lines, littered highways with accidents and caused mass flight cancellations. It stretches 2,000 miles from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border. Temperatures drastically below normal from the Rockies to the Appalachians.

Freezing rain blanketed much of the northwest Pacific, while the northeast faced coastal and inland flooding followed by a quick freeze.

"Heavy rain falling on melting snowflakes will increase the impact of flooding," the NWS said. “Moderate to isolated major coastal flooding expected due to strong onshore winds. Rapidly dropping temperatures at the back of a storm can cause flooded areas to freeze over."

The freezing temperatures and strong winds were expected to produce a "dangerous wind chill over much of the central and eastern US, a potentially life-threatening hazard to stranded travelers".

"In some areas, being outdoors can cause frostbite within minutes," the NWS said, adding: "Ensure animals and livestock outdoors have adequate shelter."

In six New England states, nearly 400,000 customers remain without power, with some utilities warning recovery could take days. In North Carolina, nearly 370,000 are without power, according to Poweroutage.us.

PJM Interconnection, Pennsylvania, issued an emergency call for conservation, asking residents in 13 states to set thermostats lower, suspend use of major appliances such as stoves and dishwashers, and turn off non-essential lights. Commercial and industrial electricity users are asked to reduce.

PJM also appealed to the public to be prepared for rotating blackouts. PJM includes all or part of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC.

Millions of people traveling in the run up to Christmas were impacted, with 7,423 flights delayed and 3,426 canceled within, into or out of the US, according to FlightAware. The NWS warned of "extremely hazardous" road trips due to "whiteout conditions", urging travelers to expect "near zero visibility and appreciable blows and snow drifts" at regular intervals.

"Traveling in these conditions would be very dangerous, sometimes impossible," he said.

Highways are closed because accidents multiply. Four died in a pileup involving 50 vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike. A driver in Kansas City, Missouri, died Thursday after sliding into a river. Three died on a Kansas road. Michigan faced a series of accidents, including one involving nine semi-trailers.

In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights at Pearson airport in Toronto. In Mexico, migrants are camping near the US border in frigid temperatures as they await a supreme court ruling on pandemic-era restrictions that have stopped many from seeking asylum.

In South Dakota, governor Kristi Noem announced an expansion of the state's national guard mission to help the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux with firewood and clear 12 feet of windblown snow.

A rare freeze warning has been issued for most of Florida.

Across the storm, activists scrambled to pull homeless people out of the cold. Nearly 170 adults and children are in a Detroit shelter designed to house 100 people.

“It's a lot of extra people” but it's not an option to turn anyone away, said Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services.

In Portland, Oregon, nearly 800 people slept in five shelters as outreach teams distributed survival kits. The shelter is calling for volunteers. Employees were laid off because of the flu or prevented from work because of icy roads, officials said.

On Mount Washington in New Hampshire, the highest peak in the northeast, winds were reaching 150 mph.

In Boston, rain and high tide flooded several downtown streets. In Vermont, Amtrak canceled train service and non-essential state offices closed early.

"I heard from crews who saw growing trees uprooted," Mari McClure, president of Green Mountain Power, Vermont's largest utility, told reporters.

In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency and announced plans to deploy the national guard to the Buffalo area.

Jefferson County declared a state of emergency and a travel ban as the NWS in Buffalo reported "life-threatening blizzard conditions", with 14 inches of snow in 24 hours and another 2 feet to 4 feet likely.

Hochul said Buffalo Niagara international airport would be closed through Monday, some roads would be closed for Christmas Day and nearly every fire truck in Buffalo was stranded.

"No matter how many emergency vehicles we have, they can't get through the current conditions," said Hochul.

Two people died on Friday after first responders were unable to reach their homes during the medical emergency.

"It's like a Category 3 hurricane with snowdrifts mixed in," Tim Carney, of the Erie County Sheriff's Office, told Buffalo News, estimating that at least 10 police vehicles were stranded.

Winds are expected to ease Saturday, although "blizzard conditions continue within the lake's snowpack", the NWS said.

In Nashville, Tennessee, the mayor, John Cooper, announced that he had asked the Tennessee Titans to postpone their NFL Christmas Eve game, "in solidarity with our neighbours."

The largest US public utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, ended rotating blackouts on Friday but still asked local power companies to reduce usage.

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