Dec 23 (Reuters) – More than two-thirds of the U.S. population was under an extreme weather warning on Friday as a deep freeze blanketed much of the country ahead of the holiday weekend, hampering travel plans, out of power to homes and businesses causing at least three deaths.
With a bitter cold column stretching from Texas to Montana beginning to march east, more than 240 million people were under weather advisories Friday, the National Weather Service said. Freeze warnings were issued in parts of South Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
In Kentucky, two people were killed in car accidents and a homeless person died, Governor Andy Beshear announced Friday.
“Please stay home and stay safe,” he said on Twitter.
Numbing cold intensified by high winds even spread to the US-Mexico border, bringing single-digit chilling temperatures to the border city of El Paso, Texas.
Further north, heavy snowfall was forecast in parts of Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York, including more than 35 inches in Buffalo, Weather Service meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said.
The map of existing or upcoming winter hazards shows “one of the largest volumes of winter weather warnings and advisories ever,” the agency said.
The extreme weather disrupted families and holiday plans just days before Christmas. About 1.5 million US homes and businesses were without power Friday, according to the tracking site Poweroutage.us. About 187,000 customers were without power in North Carolina alone, where strong winds hampered restoration efforts.
In Maine, with about a tenth of the population of North Carolina, the power was out for more than 114,000 customers on Friday evening.
Heavy winds, ice and snow disrupted commercial air traffic during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
More than 4,000 US flights were canceled on Friday, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. About 500 flights into or out of Seattle’s major airport were canceled as a separate storm system brought ice and freezing rain to the Pacific Northwest.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimated that 112.7 million people planned to travel 50 miles (80 km) or more from home between Friday and January 2. That number is likely to drop because of treacherous weather that air and road travel difficulties have affected. the weekend.
Officials from the Buffalo area of New York instituted a driving ban.
“If there is any good news, it is that the storm has moved quickly over several areas,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told MSNBC on Friday. Many airports, such as Denver, are expected to bounce back quickly from a wave of delays and cancellations. Other hubs like Chicago could recover later on Friday, he said.
Last-minute holiday gift purchases may have a slim chance of reaching their destination by Christmas. FedEx Corp ( FDX.N ) said on Friday that customers can expect potential delays on some package deliveries across the country due to disruptions at hubs in Tennessee and Indianapolis.
Weather forecasters described the storm over the Midwest as a “bomb cyclone” — a phenomenon that occurs when air pressure drops significantly within a 24-hour period and speeds up the intensity of a storm. It could produce blinding snow from the northern Plains and Great Lakes region to the upper Mississippi Valley and western New York state.
Along the east coast, rain and westerly winds could push sea water to shore 3 feet of coastal flooding, with flash freezing and black ice possible, the Weather Service said.
The lowest temperature in the United States was recorded on Friday morning in Havre, Montana, registering minus 38 Fahrenheit (minus 38 Celsius). But forecasters predict some relief over the next few days. In Montana and across the northern Rockies and High Plains, temperatures could rebound to 40 to 60 degrees over the weekend.
For now, meteorologist Cook said: “Bundle up and stay inside if you can, and check on your neighbors.”
Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Steve Gorman, Rich McKay Susan Heavey, Laila Kearney, Scott DiSavino, Jonathan Oatis, Aleksandra Michalska and Aurora Ellis
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