Winter Storm Forecast: Millions face a storm of unprecedented proportions

Almost unprecedented in magnitude, the winter storm stretched from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico.

MISSION, Kan. – A ferocious winter storm continued to engulf much of the United States on Saturday, bringing blinding snowstorms, freezing rain, flooding and life-threatening cold to most of the country. A major electric grid operator, which supplies 65 million people in the eastern US, says power plants are struggling to function in the cold weather and has asked residents to refrain from using unnecessary electricity.

Pennsylvania-based company PJM Interconnection issued the emergency call to protect the whole system, urging residents of 13 states to set thermostats lower than usual, delay use of large appliances like stoves and dishwashers, and turn off unnecessary lights. Commercial and industrial consumers of electricity have also been asked to reduce their electricity supply.

PJM officials said there are increased power demands across the system, while at the same time some power plants are struggling to operate in the extreme cold. They said they want people to be prepared for the possibility of power outages.

“It will be short lived, we will do everything we can to prevent it, but it is a real possibility,” said Mike Bryson, senior vice president of operations at PJM.

The PJM territory includes all or portions of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, DC

Added to this were power outages that were still affecting more than 1.7 million homes and businesses as of early Saturday, according to website PowerOutage, which tracks reports from utilities.

The storm was nearly unprecedented in magnitude, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some type of winter weather alert or warning, and temperatures dropped drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachian Mountains, the National Weather Service said.

Freezing rain blanketed much of the Pacific Northwest with a sheet of ice, while people in the Northeast faced the threat of coastal and inland flooding.

Cold temperatures and gusty winds this holiday weekend were expected to “create dangerously cold wind chills across much of the central and eastern US,” the weather service said, adding that the conditions will “pose a potentially life-threatening hazard to travelers who are traveling.” will be stranded.”

“In some areas, being outdoors can cause frostbite in minutes,” it said.

As millions of Americans traveled ahead of Christmas, more than 5,700 flights within, to or from the United States were canceled as of Friday, according to tracking site FlightAware.

Several highways were closed and accidents claimed at least six lives, officials said. Four people died in a pile-up involving around 50 vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike. A Kansas City, Missouri driver was killed Thursday after sliding into a creek and three others died in separate accidents on icy roads in northern Kansas on Wednesday.

In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Friday, as meteorologists there warned of a possible once-in-a-decade weather event. While in Mexico, Migrants camped near the US border in unseasonably cold temperatures while awaiting a US Supreme Court decision on pandemic-era restrictions preventing many from seeking asylum.

Forecasters said a bomb cyclone – when atmospheric pressure drops very rapidly in a strong storm – had been developing near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions including violent winds and snow.

Even people in Florida were set for unusually cool weather as infrequent freeze warnings were issued for much of the state over the bank holiday weekend.

Activists rushed to bring homeless people out of the cold. Nearly 170 adults and children warmed up early Friday in Detroit at a shelter and warm-up center designed for 100 people.

“That’s a lot of extra people,” but turning anyone away wasn’t an option, said Faith Fowler, the executive director of Cass Community Social Services, which operates both facilities.

Emergency shelters in Portland, Oregon called for volunteers due to high demand and staffing issues as snow, sleet, ice and freezing temperatures descended on the area.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said she is sending in the National Guard to haul lumber to the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes and to help with snow removal.

“We have families far out that we haven’t heard from in two weeks,” said Wayne Boyd, chief of staff to the Rosebud Sioux president.

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Harlie Young was huddled around a wood-burning stove with five children and their father when 12-foot (3.6-meter) snowdrifts blocked the home.

“We’re just trying to be positive that they’re still coming and haven’t forgotten about us,” she said Friday.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called it a “kitchen sink storm” and declared a state of emergency. In parts of New York City, the floods inundated streets, homes and businesses on Friday morning.

Rain along with flooding in Boston flooded some downtown streets on Friday.

Hemorrhage reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press journalist Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit; Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon; Zeke Miller in Washington, DC; and Emily Wagster Pettus of Jackson, Mississippi contributed to this report. Winter Storm Forecast: Millions face a storm of unprecedented proportions

Laura Coffey

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