Some inhabitants were trapped inside their homes by towering snow drifts, and the blizzard knocked out electricity to several hundred thousand homes and businesses, killing at least 24 people across the United States overnight and early Christmas morning.
The storm’s reach, from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande, is almost unprecedented. The National Weather Service said that temperatures dropped sharply below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, impacting around 60% of the country.
As of early Sunday morning, FlightAware reported that 1,346 flights had been cancelled both nationally and internationally.
Blizzard conditions, including high winds and heavy snowfall, were predicted by meteorologists after a bomb cyclone formed near the Great Lakes.
Hurricane-force winds and snow caused whiteout conditions in Buffalo, paralysing emergency response attempts (New York Governor Kathy Hochul stated practically every fire engine in the city was stranded) and, according to officials, closing the airport until Monday. At 7 a.m. on Sunday, the National Weather Service reported that 43 inches of snow had fallen at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Two residents of Cheektowaga, New York, passed away in their homes, and a third passed away in Buffalo, New York, because emergency services were unable to reach them in time to address their medical issues. The death toll in Erie County increased by four more over night. Mark Poloncarz, the county executive, has expressed concern that other fatalities could occur.
Poloncarz explained that while some were located in vehicles, others were discovered in snowbanks along the roadside. It’s common knowledge that some motorists have spent more than two days stranded.
Buffalonians were forced to leave their homes in search of heat during a daylong power outage and subfreezing temperatures. People like Jeremy Manahan, who went over 29 hours without power and ended up charging their phones in their parked cars, didn’t have the luxury while the city was buried beneath a foot of snow.
Even if there were a warming shelter closer to me, the distance would be too great to justify the effort. Because I’m stuck, obviously, I can’t drive,” Manahan explained. And if you go outside for more than ten minutes, you risk frostbite.
Ditjak Ilunga and his daughters were on their way to spend Christmas with relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, when their SUV got stuck in Buffalo on Friday. Having no way to get aid, they sat there for hours as the engine roared and the car was nearly covered in snow.
Nearing the end of their fuel supply at 4 a.m. on Saturday, Ilunga took the difficult decision to make their way to a nearby shelter despite the howling storm. Through the snowdrifts he walked with Destiny, 6, on his back and Cindy, 16, clutching their Pomeranian pet.
He remembered thinking, “If I stay in this car I’m going to die here with my kids,” but knowing they had to try nonetheless. As soon as the family entered the shelter, he burst into tears. I can honestly say, “That is an experience I will never forget.”
Power was lost in areas from Maine to Seattle as a result of the storm. However, utilities across the country were gradually being brought back up. From a high of 1.7 million, poweroutage.us reports that less than 300,000 people were without electricity by 5 a.m. Pacific time on Sunday.
On Sunday, the state of Maine was still the hardest struck of the six New England states, with almost a quarter of a million people still without electricity.
Seven people died in Erie County, New York, due to the storm; ten people died in multiple crashes in Ohio, including a pileup involving some 50 vehicles, a man whose sport utility vehicle ran into a snowplough, and an electrocuted utility worker; four drivers were killed in separate crashes in Missouri and Kansas; a woman in Vermont was hit by a falling branch; a man found apparently homeless in Colorado’s subzero temperatures; and a woman who fell from a roof in Washington
Temperatures in central Florida dipped into the twenties and thirties, and at Tampa International Airport the thermometer dropped below freezing for the first time in over five years, said the National Weather Service.
West Palm Beach, in South Florida, saw temperatures as low as 43 degrees. Iguanas, being cold-blooded reptiles, frequently become immobile in unusually cold weather, hence the dip in temperature aided their falling from trees.
Terry Henderson and her husband Rick spent 34 hours trapped in traffic along Kentucky’s Interstate 71, despite having a diesel heater, a toilet, and a refrigerator installed in their vehicle. They were on their way to Ohio for Christmas from Alabama.
After they finally started moving again on Saturday, Terry Henderson admitted, “We should have remained.”
According to Vivian Robinson of Spirit of Truth Urban Ministry in Buffalo, she and her husband have been providing food and shelter for anywhere from sixty to seventy people who have spent the night there on Saturday due to a lack of power or heat in their homes.
Some arrived in tears, others with raw, irritated skin from the subzero weather.
Emotions ran high as Robinson described how “they felt they were not going to make it,” and how the congregation’s welcoming presence brought a sigh of relief. “Everyone who’s here seems to be having a great time. Everyone’s Christmas is going to be unique this year.