CHICAGO — A frigid winter storm hit the United States for three days on Friday, cutting power to more than half a million homes and businesses, causing crashes and long delays on ice-covered highways, and killing thousands just before Christmas. Thousands of travelers were stranded at the airport.
Dire conditions from snow, ice or freezing temperatures were shared by most of the country. About two-thirds of the US population, or more than 200 million people, had winter warnings or advisories at some point on Friday. Even New Orleans, famous for its temperate climate, has opened three nighttime warming centers.
Meteorologists said the storm isn’t over yet. The Midwest, Northeast, and South were expected to experience freezing temperatures through the holiday weekend. Snowstorm conditions could persist for several days in spots around the Great Lakes region, including the city of Buffalo, which experienced 70 mph winds on Friday. New York City is expected to experience freezing winds through Saturday morning.
For many, the cold was the storm’s most enduring calling card.
“If you get a walk-in freezer and sit half-naked for a while, it’s cold enough how it feels,” says Randy Hayden, 70, who runs a 20,000-acre cattle ranch at Gillette. The wind was cold and it felt like 45 degrees below zero.
It was as painful as thousands of flights were canceled. Many weary travelers find themselves stuck in airport terminals and unable to spend their vacation as planned.
Memphis principal Sharisse Wooding, 41, said her flight home from vacation in New York City was canceled and rebooked for Monday.
“It was a little heartbreaking,” she said as she remained at LaGuardia Airport trying to regroup. She said, “You shouldn’t spend your Christmas holidays like this.”
The windy, icy air terrified residents accustomed to a particularly mild winter. Officials said at least 12 people were killed in crashes believed to be storm-related in Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio and Oklahoma.
In Nashville, a layer of ice and snow covered ice and snow, and temperatures dropped to 0°C, making the normally noisy downtown relatively quiet and the usual vacationing tourists gone.
Steam rose from the Cumberland River into the icy air as 29-year-old Kyle Elliott walked over the footbridge and strapped a guitar to his back. After his 15 minutes of walking, he lost feeling in his legs.
Elliott, a Tennessee native, said: “I’ve never felt my facial hair freeze. I have it now.”
In Nashville, about 55,000 customers in the city were without power as of Friday afternoon, and state officials urged businesses and residents to reduce usage and stabilize the grid.
Other parts of the country were more prepared for the freezing blast.
Angus cows trotted down the meadow trails of Steve and Tara Aghan’s farm about an hour south of Des Moines on Friday, eager to feed on silage and alfalfa.
Temperatures soared to minus 9 degrees overnight, and winds soared to minus 27 degrees, blowing snow around.
“Your eyelashes will freeze in a few minutes here,” said Agan, who said the biggest challenge was keeping his fingers warm, even with thick gloves, while bottle-feeding some of the calves. “But you have no choice. You have to get out. The cows need to be fed in the winter just as they are in the summer.”
Goran Nedeljkovic, 59, a postman in Chicago, said he was surprised that mail carriers had to complete the route on foot on Friday.
“I have five or six layers and I’m fine, but my fingertips keep freezing through my gloves, my glasses keep fogging up and the scanner isn’t working because of the cold,” he said. .
Many New Englanders responded to the storm with a characteristic combination of stoicism and receptivity, even as fallen trees and storm surges cut power and blocked roads. At the Landing, a brown-shingled restaurant on the edge of the harbor in Marblehead, north of Boston, manager Dina and her Sweeney stand outside as gray water billows and the metal grates and grates at the harbor’s edge I broke through the railing and watched the seaweed scatter on the surface. parking.
Inside the building, she said the flooding caused significant damage, including buckling of the floors, despite protective hatches built into the structure that allow seawater to enter and exit.
“It’s a very angry ocean,” she said.
Power outages swept across the country on Friday. It’s particularly prevalent in North Carolina, where he had more than 60,000 customers affected as of Friday night, according to the website. poweroutage.us.
Electronic music artist Caitlin Linney woke up Friday at her parents’ country house in Elland, about 40 minutes northwest of Raleigh.
Linney’s parents live on 10 acres of land and draw water from a well. But no power means no water to pump it. On Friday afternoon, traveling from her home in Southern California for the holidays, Linney was in nearby Durham, buying Vietnamese food for lunch and a large bottle of water.
By mid-afternoon, electricity was restored at her family’s house, but Linny was worried that the power would go out again, especially on Friday night, when temperatures were expected to drop to 9 degrees Celsius.
According to Linney, her 80-year-old father cut down fallen trees with a chainsaw and put the logs in the wood fire.
“We keep the wood stove on,” Linney said. She said she might have to ask her neighbor’s house to lay down if the power outage hits again.
In Atlanta, where residents are accustomed to occasional cold spells, Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency this week, banning heating fuel price hikes and warning of black ice on roads.
Ponce City Market is a trendy indoor-outdoor mall along the Atlanta Beltline, the city’s recreational trail, and most of the events took place indoors as shoppers ran errands two days before Christmas.
At the clothing store Marine Layer’s outpost, employee Jennifer Belasco waited for customers in a fluffy winter coat and white wool hat. Every time the door opened, the wind and cold came in. Velasco, who moved to Atlanta from Houston a few months ago, wasn’t happy.
“I hate the cold,” said Velasco, 35. it hurts. everything is dry. ”
Local and state officials rushed to open emergency shelters, provide hot food, and distribute supplies for residents who found themselves lacking basic things.
Central Florida’s weather is expected to dip into the 30s over the weekend, a worrying drop for Kashawn Johnson, who has three children, a dog named Midas and no stable housing situation.
She and her family went to a homeless shelter in downtown Orlando this week. This facility also functions as a warming center, collecting supplies for cold weather.
“We got jackets, blankets, hygiene products, clothes, socks, everything,” she said. “I’m 100 percent better this weekend because it was really scary.”
Airports across the country are still thronged with Christmas travelers, but there are signs that the chaos caused by the storm is beginning to ease.
Lines at Chicago O’Hare International Airport appeared to be shorter than the day before, and some travelers said they were pleasantly surprised by the lack of chaos.
Joe Netzel, 40, from Chicago, was waiting for a flight to Phoenix with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. “But our flight is on time.”
The report was contributed by Eric Adelson from Orlando, Robert Kiarito from Chicago, Ann Hinga Klein from Des Moines, Jenna Russell From Marblehead, Massachusetts Ellen Yang When Sarah Maslin Neal from new york.