A strong winter storm is expected to cover much of the United States with heavy snow and life-threatening cold winds.
The storm will hit the country on Wednesday, likely causing holiday travel chaos for millions of Americans.
Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said nearly 200 million people are under extreme weather alerts as temperatures cause nose-diving as cold air descends from the Northern Plains.
“The rapid temperature drops are sometimes 50 degrees or more (Fahrenheit) colder than the day before,” he said, adding that “it’s a pretty powerful, powerful system.”
This ThunderFueled by moisture from the Great Lakes, up to a foot of snow can fall in the Upper Midwest between Wednesday and Friday, with blizzard conditions extending from the Northern Plains states to the Great Lakes region.
By Thursday night, a so-called “bomb cyclone” will form along the mighty Arctic front across the Great Lakes, sending sharply lower pressure over a 24-hour period, potentially driving temperatures to record-breaking lows in and across the Gulf Coast. Oravec said Florida and the eastern U.S. would take until Friday.
The weather service said heavy rain, strong winds and potentially dangerous coastal flooding were set for parts of the northeast coastline and New England on Thursday and Friday before the Arctic front arrives and causes a freeze. Up to 7.6 cm of rain is expected.
Authorities warn that travel could be seriously disrupted due to weather conditions. The weather service warned that wet roads could suddenly turn to ice, with temperatures dropping more than 11C (20F) within hours.
“We’ve had a great Thanksgiving week with minimal disruption. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be the way to Christmas,” US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg told MSNBC.
He added that Americans traveling by air must be prepared for delays and be flexible in their plans, while drivers must be prepared for severe weather conditions.
Southwest Airlines said it canceled 500 of its 4,000 scheduled flights on Thursday and Friday. The company said it wanted to maintain safe operations for both passengers and crew.
At least 145 flights into and out of Denver International Airport were canceled Wednesday as it hit the city with snow, high winds and freezing temperatures, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking company. At least 219 flights into and out of Denver were expected to be canceled on Thursday.
FlightAware also expected at least 364 flights to be canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports on Thursday. Earlier this week, these two airports said they had 350 snowplows and 400,000 gallons of pavement de-icing fluid on hand for the storm.
Delta, American, United, Frontier, Alaska, Southwest and other airlines were waiving change fees and giving passengers the option to choose new flights to avoid bad weather.