A “once-in-a-generation” winter storm threatens to cripple Christmas travel. A bomb cyclone could unleash bitter cold and blizzard-like conditions, which would ravage parts of the country heading into the holiday weekend.
Holiday travel is already majorly impacted
Commercial airline companies canceled an estimated 3,300 flights in the U.S. on Thursday, according to tracking site Flightradar24. More than 2,400 flights scheduled for Friday have already been canceled, according to FlightAware. Chicago O’Hare, Chicago Midway International Airport, and Denver International Airport experienced the most canceled flights.
Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas are typically two of the busiest travel days of the year. According to the Transportation Security Administration, there were 2.58 million travelers on Christmas Eve and 2.57 million travelers on the day after Christmas last year.
The American Automobile Association estimates 112.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2 – an increase of 3.6 million people over last year and close to pre-pandemic numbers. Nearly 102 million Americans will travel by car this holiday season.
Travel by air and road could be paralyzed by winter storms across the country.
Amtrak canceled several train services in the Midwest because of the massive winter storm.
The country braces for ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ winter storm
The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Buffalo warned, “This once-in-a-generation storm will produce high winds east of Lake Ontario Thursday night into Friday morning, then over a larger coverage of our region Friday into Saturday. Winds could gust over 65 mph, leading to at least scattered power outages, if not widespread outages.”
The National Weather Service reported, “A major and anomalous storm system is forecast to produce a multitude of weather hazards through early this weekend, as heavy snowfall, strong winds, and dangerously cold temperatures span from the northern Great Basin through the Plains, Upper Midwest, Great Lakes, and the northern/central Appalachians.”
The NWS cautioned that some areas could be hit with “record-breaking cold air,” power outages, heavy snow, and blizzard conditions with wind gusts of over 60 mph that “can bring travel to a halt.”
Blizzard warnings are in effect for parts of the Dakotas, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Montana.
Casper, Wyoming, set a new all-time record low temperature on Thursday by hitting minus 42 degrees.
CNN reported, “More than 90 million people are under winter weather alerts and more than 87 million are under wind chill alerts.”
There are wind chill warnings, watches, and advisories across 36 states from Washington to Florida. Wind chill temperatures in the northernmost regions of the United States could reach 70 degrees below zero.
The National Weather Service said exposure to the life-threatening cold wind chills could cause frostbite, hypothermia, and even death.
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Bomb cyclone storms could paralyze travel
Meteorologists are concerned there could be bomb cyclone activity. A bomb cyclone is a storm that intensifies immensely and rapidly – the pressure drops 24 millibars within 24 hours.
The Weather Channel reported, “Winter Storm Elliott is intensifying into a likely bomb cyclone as it tracks through the Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes with snow and strong winds, including blizzard conditions for some.”
“The storm is expected to become a bomb cyclone Thursday evening into Friday, reaching the pressure equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane as it moves into the Great Lakes,” according to CNN.
In Denver, winter storms have already set a record with temperatures plummeting 24 degrees in just seven minutes on Wednesday afternoon. The temperature plunged 30 degrees in 10 minutes in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Within three minutes, there was a 26-degree drop in Dillion, Montana.
Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and St. Louis are under winter storm warnings for heavy snow and near-blizzard conditions.
South to feel frigid temperatures
On Thursday, snow could fall as far south as Jackson, Mississippi; Nashville, Tennessee; and Birmingham, Alabama. Wind chill temperatures are expected to fall to minus 11 degrees in Nashville and Atlanta on Saturday morning, and Birmingham is predicted to hit minus 5 degrees.
Meteorologists are predicting that several areas in Florida may hit freezing or near-freezing temperatures this weekend – making it the chilliest Christmas in 30 years. Tampa may experience its second-coldest Christmas of all time.
State of emergency declared
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the “historic low temperatures,” as did Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice.
President Joe Biden advised, “I encourage everyone, everyone to please heed the local warnings. We’ve tried to contact 26 governors so far in affected regions. Go to weather.gov for more information. This is not like a snow day when you were a kid. This is serious stuff.”