Nearly 1.5 million American homes without power, thousands of canceled flights, closed highways and sometimes fatal crashes: In the United States, Friday, the day before Christmas, was hit by a winter storm of rare intensity.
According to the US Weather Service (NWS) “Historical”, it produced heavy snowfall, sleet and temperatures as low as -48°C, capable of turning boiling water into ice droplets in an instant.
As of Friday morning, more than 240 million people, or 70% of Americans, were affected by warnings or calls for caution in the United States.
The incident caused traffic chaos. Millions of Americans flood roads and airports for the holiday season.
In New York state, a travel ban is in place in Erie County. “We’re staying at home (…) I can’t see the other side of the street”, Jennifer Orlando, who was affected by the blockade in Hamburg, told AFP because of the snow.
He said he was without power for four hours after the vehicle crashed into a power line.
About 1.5 million homes were without power Friday, mostly in North Carolina, Maine and Virginia, according to the specialty site Poweroutage.us. On Friday evening, they were still a million in the dark.
The storm was particularly impressive in its size, stretching from the Canadian border in the north to the Mexican border in the south.
In El Paso, Texas, shelters have been opened so that migrants from Mexico can protect themselves from the risk of hypothermia in freezing temperatures.
But many people are very skeptical to accept this offer and many of them “Usually sleep wrapped in a blanket”Rosa Falcon, a 56-year-old volunteer, told AFP.
Confusion in traffic
As of Friday evening, specialist site Flightaware listed 5,500 canceled flights in the US, with airports in Seattle, New York, Chicago or Detroit most affected.
To get to Los Angeles, Christine Leroshen couldn’t get on from Vancouver, Canada, and had to convince her brother to take her to Seattle to take another flight with a stopover in Denver.
“My flight from Seattle was delayed, my flight from Denver was delayed, and now they’ve lost my luggage.” she sighed to ABC7.
Several states have declared states of emergency, including New York, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Georgia and North Carolina. With near-zero visibility, blizzards and freezing temperatures affecting much of the country, roads are extremely dangerous.
“People should stay at home, don’t go on the road,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear warned on CNN. “Your family wants to see you home for Christmas, but most of all they want to see you alive.”
He confirmed three people died on Kentucky Road. In Oklahoma, at least two people died on the road, according to the state’s emergency management agency.
In Ohio, at least one person was killed after about 50 vehicles crashed on a highway, local media reported. In Michigan, a crash involving nine tractor-trailers blocked highway traffic around midnight Friday.
“Low Pressure Bomb”
A storm of this rare intensity is caused by a “low-pressure bomb”: a powerful collision between two air masses, one very cold from the Arctic and the other tropical from the Gulf of Mexico, worsened by a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure. Less than 24 hours.
According to the U.S. National Weather Service in Buffalo, this type of storm only happens “once in a generation.”
In Chicago, where it was -20°C during the day on Friday, homeless aid organization Night Ministry was concerned about the number of beds available by the city, which it said were insufficient.
“Some of the people we welcome now have become homeless this year.” AFP Major Caleb explained
Chen is president of the Salvation Army in Chicago. “Some people are really scared. It’s the first time they’re at the mercy of nature with nowhere to go.”
Canada will also have to deal with this phenomenon, with severe cold, storm and even blizzard warnings issued for most of the territory.
But freezing temperatures in the city center didn’t stop Jennifer Campbell from doing some last-minute Christmas shopping in Toronto.
“We continue to have big storms and we’re adapting,” This tourist was kicked out of Ontario. “We’re Canadians, it’s our way.”
“Total coffee junkie. Tv ninja. Unapologetic problem solver. Beer expert.”