The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with gale force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions and crippling emergency response.
BUFFALO, NY — Millions of people huddled in a deep freezer overnight and into the early morning to weather the frigid storm that had killed at least 18 people across the United States, trapped some residents in homes with snowdrifts and knocked out power for hundreds by thousands of homes and businesses.
The extent of the storm was nearly unprecedented, 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.
More than 2,360 domestic and international flights were canceled on Saturday. according to the tracking site FlightAware.
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.
The storm unleashed its full rage on Buffalo, with gale force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions that crippled emergency response — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said nearly every fire engine in the city was stranded — and having the airport shut down by Monday officials.
Freezing conditions and days of power outages had Buffalo residents scrambling to get out of their homes to a place where it was hot on Saturday. But with the city streets under a thick white blanket, that wasn’t an option for the likes of Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after nearly 29 hours without power.
“There is a warming shelter, but that would be too far for me to get there. I obviously can’t drive because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite.”
Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz, home of Buffalo, said it took ambulances more than three hours to make a single hospital trip and the blizzard could be “the worst storm in our community’s history.”
Two people died at their homes in suburban Cheektowaga, New York, on Friday when emergency workers couldn’t get to them in time to treat their illnesses, he said, and another died in Buffalo.
“We can’t just pick everyone up and take them to a warm-up center. We’re not in a position to do that,” said Poloncarz. “Many, many neighborhoods, particularly in the city of Buffalo, are still impassable.”
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way with his daughters to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario for Christmas on Friday when their SUV got stuck in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running in the wind-battered vehicle, which was almost buried in snow.
At 4 a.m. Saturday, with her fuel running low, Ilunga made the desperate decision to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched her Pomeranian puppy and followed in his footsteps as they trudged through drifts.
“If I stay in this car, I will die here with my children,” he recalled, he thought, but believed they had to try. He cried as the family walked through the shelter doors. “It’s something I’ll never forget in my life.”
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle, and a major power grid operator warned 65 million people in the eastern United States of potential blackouts.
More than 273,000 customers were left without power in the six New England states on Saturday, with Maine hardest hit. Some utilities said power might not be restored for days.
In North Carolina, 169,000 customers were without power as of Saturday afternoon, up from more than 485,000. Utility officials said the power outages would continue for the next few days.
Storm-related deaths have been reported across the country in recent days: four dead in a pile-up on the Ohio Turnpike involving about 50 vehicles; four motorists killed in separate crashes in Missouri and Kansas; an Ohio utility worker was electrocuted; a Vermont woman who was struck by a falling tree branch; an apparently homeless man found in sub-zero temperatures in Colorado; a woman falling through the ice of the Wisconsin River.
In Mexico, Migrants camped near the US border have faced unseasonably cold temperatures as they await a US Supreme Court decision on pandemic-era restrictions that barred many from seeking asylum.
Along Interstate 71 in Kentucky, Terry Henderson and her husband Rick survived a 34-hour traffic jam in a trailer equipped with a diesel heater, toilet and refrigerator after trying to get from Alabama to their Ohio home for Christmas drive, got stuck.
“We should have stayed,” Terry Henderson said after they set out again on Saturday.
Erie County’s Poloncarz tweeted late Saturday that Buffalo Airport had accumulated 34.6 inches (about 88 centimeters) of snow and drifts were well over 6 feet (1.8 meters) in some areas. Blizzard conditions were expected to ease early Sunday, he continued, but continued lake-effect snow was forecast.
Vivian Robinson, of the Spirit of Truth Urban Ministry in Buffalo, said she and her husband sheltered and cooked for 60 to 70 people, including stranded travelers and locals without electricity or heat, who were at church Saturday night.
Many arrived with ice and snow on their clothes, crying, their skin flushed from single-digit temperatures. On Saturday night, they prepared to spend Christmas together.
“It’s emotional just to see the pain that they thought they couldn’t make it and to see that we had the church open and it gave them a sense of relief,” Robinson said. “Whoever is here has a lot of fun. It will be a different Christmas for everyone.”
Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press Writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Corey Williams of Southfield, Mich.; John Raby of Charleston, West Virginia; Maysoon Khan in Albany, New York; Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina; Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont; and John Hanna of Topeka, Kansas contributed to this report.
https://www.kvue.com/article/news/nation-world/millions-in-us-hunker-down-frigid-deadly-monster-storm/507-cd652dfa-5ff8-4051-9e61-66a66b7bfdaa Winter Storm on Christmas Day: Millions in the US are cowering from the cold