MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Thousands flights were canceled and homeless shelters were overflowing Thursday amid one of the most treacherous holiday seasons the U.S. has seen in decades, with temperatures plummeting to 50 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas and forecasters warning of an impending “bomb cyclone ”, which could further worsen conditions before Christmas.
Cold air has been moving eastward across the central United States, with a cold weather advisory affecting about 135 million people in the coming days, Weather Service meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said Thursday. Places like Des Moines, Iowa will see temperatures as low as minus 37 degrees, making frostbite possible in less than five minutes.
“It’s not like a snow day when you were a kid,” President Joe Biden warned Thursday in the Oval Office after briefing federal officials. “This is serious stuff.”
Forecasters expect a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly during a severe storm — to develop late Thursday and Friday near the Great Lakes. That will bring a blizzard, including high winds and snow, Cook said.
Robert Oliver, emergency manager for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, said tribal officials are working to clear roads to get propane and firewood to homes, but they are facing unrelenting winds that are creating drifts more than 10 feet high in some places.
“With the weather and the amount of equipment we have, we don’t have enough of it,” Oliver said, noting that rescues of people trapped in their homes had to be halted early Thursday when hydraulic fluid in heavy equipment froze in the temperature below 41. windbreaker.
He said five have died in recent storms, including last week’s blizzard.
Temperatures were expected to drop quickly in Texas on Thursday, but state leaders vowed to prevent a repeat of the February 2021 storm overloaded the state power grid and was blamed for hundreds of deaths.
Cold weather spread to El Paso and across the border to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where migrants were staying camping outside or filling shelters while they await a decision will the US lift restrictions which prevented many from seeking asylum.
Elsewhere in the U.S., authorities are concerned about the possibility of power outages and have warned people to take precautions to protect the elderly, homeless people and pets — and to delay travel if possible. Some utilities have urged customers to turn down their thermostats to save energy.
“This event could be life-threatening if stranded,” said the National Weather Service in Minnesota, where officials reported dozens of accidents.
In Kansas City, Missouri, one person has died after a car overturned in an icy creek, police said.
Michigan State Police prepared to send additional troopers to assist motorists. And along the Interstate 90 toll road in northern Indiana, crews were prepared to clear snow as forecasters warned of a blizzard starting Thursday evening.
“If you want to get to someone’s house for the holidays and you still haven’t left, it can quickly become risky,” said Rick Feder, chief operating officer of ITR Concession Co., the private operator of the toll road.
The School District of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest, announced that the last Friday classes of the calendar year will be held online instead of in person as planned. In western Allegheny County, public works spokesman Brent Wasko said officials will deploy 33 trucks of salt, but pretreatment of roads is not an option because expected rainfall Thursday night and Friday morning will wash away the salt.
More than 2,156 flights to, from, and the U.S. had been canceled as of Thursday afternoon, according to tracking website FlightAware. Airlines also canceled 1,576 flights on Friday. Chicago and Denver airports report the most cancellations.
Among the canceled flights was Ashley Sherrod, who was scheduled to fly from Nashville to Flint, Michigan, on Thursday afternoon. Sherrod is now debating whether to drive or risk booking her Saturday flight, which she fears will be cancelled.
“My family is calling, they want me home for Christmas, but they also want me to be safe,” said Sherrod, whose bag — including the Grinch pajamas she was going to wear to a family party — packed and ready at the door. . “Christmas is starting to, for lack of a better word, suck.”
Meanwhile, Amtrak canceled service on more than 20 routes, primarily in the Midwest.
Some shelters in the Detroit area were already loaded but were still being vacated.
“We’re not sending anyone back into this cold,” Aisha Morrell-Ferguson, spokeswoman for COTS, a family-only shelter, told the Detroit News.
And in Portland, Oregon, officials opened four emergency shelters. Downtown, Stephen Venus tried to board a light rail train to escape the cold after huddling on the sidewalk in sub-zero temperatures overnight.
“My toes are frozen,” he said, pulling a sleeping bag over his head as he stopped by a flimsy tent where another homeless person was hiding.
Courtney Dodds, a spokeswoman for the Union Evangelical Mission, said her organization’s teams were going to try to convince people to seek shelter.
“It can be very easy for people to doze off and fall asleep and end up dying because of the cold weather.”
In Montana, temperatures fell to minus 50 degrees (minus 46 degrees Celsius) in Elk Park, a mountain pass on the Continental Divide. Schools and several ski areas were closed, several thousand people were left without electricity.
Near Big Sandy, Montana, rancher Rich Roth said he’s not too concerned about his 3,500 pregnant cows taking the cold, saying “they’re very resilient animals.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine warned of a “unique and dangerous” flash freeze situation across the state Thursday night. He also urged people to check on their neighbors and loved ones.
In famously snowy Buffalo, New York, forecasters predicted a “once-in-a-generation storm” due to heavy snowfall, wind gusts of up to 65 mph (105 kph), white outs and the potential for sur’ major power outages. Mayor Byron Brown urged people to stay home and the NHL moved the home game of the Buffalo Sabers. against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Denver, no stranger to winter storms, had its coldest Thursday in 32 years, with temperatures dropping to minus 24 (minus 31 Celsius) at the airport in the morning.
Charleston, South Carolina, was under a coastal flood warning for Thursday. This area is a popular tourist destination due to its mild winters, resistant to strong winds and frost.
Winter weather has spread across Canada, causing delays and cancellations earlier in the week Vancouver International Airport. A severe winter storm was expected to hit Toronto from Friday into Saturday, with wind gusts of up to 60 mph (100 kph), forecast to bring snow and limited visibility, Environment Canada said.