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Mammoth "historic" storm bringing bitter cold, blizzard warnings to much of nation

Deadly winter storm and extreme cold sweeps U.S.
Deadly winter storm and extreme cold sweeps U.S. 03:13

Thousands of flights were canceled, reports of power outages spread, and homeless shelters were packed Friday amid one of the most treacherous holiday travel seasons the U.S. has seen in decades. Temperatures plummeted by 50 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas and forecasters warned of a "bomb cyclone" that could make conditions even worse before Christmas.

The frigid air was moving through the central United States to the east, with windchill advisories affecting about 135 million people over the coming days, National Weather Service meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said Thursday. Places like Des Moines, Iowa, will feel like minus 37 degrees, making it possible to suffer frostbite in less than five minutes.

Several states have blizzard warnings in place, from Montana to New York, Weather Channel meteorologist Chris Warren said.

"With winds widespread, stronger than 50 mph at times, there could be widespread power outages, and when you think about the cold that's on the way, it is not at all something  that you would want to deal with," Warren said.

APTOPIX Winter Weather
A resident shovels snow off the end of a driveway on Dec. 22, 2022, in Urbandale, Iowa. Temperatures plunged far and fast Thursday as a winter storm formed ahead of Christmas weekend, promising heavy snow, ice, flooding and powerful winds across a broad swath of the country and complicating holiday travel. Charlie Neibergall / AP

The National Weather service said early Friday that the "historic" storm will "produce widespread disruptions to large portions of the nation, with "more than 200 million people, or roughly 60% of the U.S. population, under some form of winter weather warnings or advisories."

The service said the "powerful Arctic front" would "continue to sweep across the eastern third" of the U.S. Friday, though temperatures "will begin to rebound across the Northern Rockies and High Plains this weekend." 

It said heavy snow would "blanket the Great Lakes region into northern N.Y. state and northern New England" while "significant freezing rain" is possible across the Pacific Northwest. 

The storm intensified into a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — near the Great Lakes on Friday, the Weather Channel reported.

Whiteout conditions wreaked havoc from Colorado, east to Wyoming, and north to Minnesota. Wyoming Highway Patrol handled 787 calls for help and 104 crashes in just a 12-hour period.

There were already more than twice as many flight cancellations early Friday — with over 5,800 as of 8:30 a.m. ET — as there were for all of Thursday, when there were almost 2,600, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. com.

"Today's a very challenging day for Delta teams, exacerbated by a freeing rain event in the Pacific Northwest," Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant told CBS News on Thursday. "Tomorrow, the challenges will be at our Detroit hub with a change in the forecast overnight of rain to snow." 

Runways at the Seattle airport were closed Friday morning due to icy conditions.

The Detroit News reported that forecasters said the storm could bring waves as high as 27 feet to Lake Superior.   

Unexpected light snow in the Dallas area forced de-icing operations at Dallas Fort Worth International and Dallas Love Field airports, resulting in additional delays.  

Winter storm, Minneapolis, December 2022
High winds whip around 7.5 inches of new snow at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as workers prepare a Sun Country Airlines plane for takeoff on Dec. 22, 2022.  David Joles/Star Tribune via Getty Images

CBS DFW reports that a man authorities believe was homeless died after being found outside in the bitter cold in Fort Worth.

In Kansas City, Missouri, one person died when a van drove over an embankment into an icy creek and overturned, CBS Kansas City affiliate KCTV reports.

Three deaths were attributed to the storm in Kansas and one in Nebraska. All involved traffic accidents.

"This is not like a snow day when you were a kid," President Joe Biden warned Thursday in the Oval Office after a briefing from federal officials. "This is serious stuff."

In South Dakota, Rosebud Sioux Tribe emergency manager Robert Oliver said tribal authorities have been working to clear roads to deliver propane and fire wood to homes, but face a relentless wind that has created drifts over 10 feet in some places.

"This weather and the amount of equipment we have — we don't have enough," Oliver said, noting that rescues of people stranded in their homes had to be halted early Thursday when the hydraulic fluid in heavy equipment froze amid a 41 below zero windchill.

He said five have died in recent storms, including a blizzard from last week.

Winter storm, Minneapolis, December 2022
 A man shovels the sidewalk while another one clears the snow with a power sweeper Dec. 22, 2022 in downtown Minneapolis.  Alex Kormann/Star Tribune via Getty Images

In Texas, temperatures began to plummet Thursday, but state leaders promised there wouldn't be a repeat of the February 2021 storm that overwhelmed the state's power grid and was blamed for hundreds of deaths. 

The Department of Homeland Security Thursday warned migrants not to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the "severe weather will force temperatures to dangerously low levels this week." However, dozens of stranded migrants were sleeping on streets of El Paso. 

The cold weather extended across the border into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where migrants have been camping outside or filling shelters as they await a decision on whether the U.S. will lift restrictions that have prevented many from seeking asylum.

Texas Power Grid To Be Tested With Incoming Winter Chills
Transmission towers at a power plant near the Energy Research Park facility on Dec. 22, 2022 in Houston, Texas. BRANDON BELL / Getty Images

Elsewhere in the U.S., authorities worried about the risk of power failures and warned people to take precautions to protect older and homeless people and livestock — and, if possible, to postpone travel. Some utilities were urging customers to turn down their thermostats to conserve energy.

"This event could be life-threatening if you are stranded," according to an online post by the National Weather Service in Minnesota, where officials reported dozens of crashes.

Some states expected to see wind chills below zero 01:04

Michigan State Police prepared to deploy additional troopers to help motorists. And along a toll road on Interstate 90 in northern Indiana, crews were braced to clear as much as a foot of snow as meteorologists warned of blizzard conditions there starting Thursday evening.

"If you're looking to get to someone's house for the holidays and you haven't left by now it could get dicey soon," said Rick Fedder, the chief operating officer of ITR Concession Co., the toll road's private operator.

The School District of Philadelphia, the largest in Pennsylvania, announced that Friday's final classes of the calendar year would be held online rather than in-person as scheduled. In Allegheny County in the western part of the state, public works spokesman Brent Wasko said officials would deploy 33 salt trucks but that pretreating the roads wasn't an option because expected rainfall Thursday night and Friday morning would wash the salt away.

Amtrak, meanwhile, canceled service on more than 20 routes, primarily in the Midwest.

Some shelters in the Detroit area already were at capacity but still making room.

"We are not sending anyone back into this cold," Aisha Morrell-Ferguson, a spokeswoman for COTS, a family-only shelter, told the Detroit News.

And in Portland, Oregon, officials opened four emergency shelters. In the city's downtown, Steven Venus tried to get on a light-rail train to get out of the cold after huddling on the sidewalk overnight in below-zero temperatures.

"My toes were freezing off," he said, a sleeping bag wrapped around his head, as he paused near a flimsy tent where another homeless person was taking shelter.

Courtney Dodds, a spokeswoman for the Union Gospel Mission, said teams from her organization had been going out to try to convince people to seek shelter.

"It can be really easy for people to doze off and fall asleep and wind up losing their lives because of the cold weather."

In Montana, temperatures fell as low as 50 below zero at Elk Park, a mountain pass on the Continental Divide. Schools and several ski areas closed, and several thousand people lost power.

Near Big Sandy, Montana, rancher Rich Roth said he wasn't too concerned about his 3,500 pregnant cows weathering the cold snap, saying "they're pretty dang resilient animals."

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine warned of a "unique and dangerous" situation of flash freezing Thursday night statewide. 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" because of heavy lake-effect snow, wind gusts as high as 65 mph, whiteouts and the potential for extensive power outages. Mayor Byron Brown urged people to stay home, and the NHL postponed the Buffalo Sabres' home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Denver, also no stranger to winter storms, was the coldest it has been in 32 years on Thursday, when the temperature dropped to minus 24 in the morning at the airport.

In Charleston, South Carolina, a coastal flood warning was in effect Thursday. The area, a popular tourist destination for its mild winters, braced for strong winds and freezing temperatures.

The wintry weather extended into Canada, causing delays and cancellations earlier in the week at Vancouver International Airport. A major winter storm was expected Friday into Saturday in Toronto, where wind gusts as high as 60 mph were predicted to cause blowing snow and limited visibility, Environment Canada said.

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