Winter storm causes power outages, hits Americans with snow and freezing temperatures before Christmas

Winter storm causes power outages, hits Americans with snow and freezing temperatures before Christmas

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Cold winter storm swept across the country, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses and leaving millions of people reeling from the possibility of power outages over the Christmas holiday weekend.

The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, New York, with hurricane-force winds causing whiteout conditions. Emergency response efforts were paralyzed and the city’s international airport was closed.

CBS News has confirmed at least 20 weather-related deaths from the storm across the country. At least three people died in the Buffalo area, including two who had medical emergencies at their homes and could not be saved because emergency crews were unable to reach them amid historic blizzard conditions.

As millions of Americans traveled before Christmas, more than 3,400 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were canceled Saturday and another 1,300 as of 7 a.m. ET Sunday, according to the tracking site FlightAware. Airlines were catching up with crew shortages and the thaw, delaying the return to normal, CBS News correspondent Naomi Ruchim reported. In Seattle, an ice storm closed several runways.
Rhys makes his way to help dig up abandoned vehicles along the shore of Lake Erie on December 24, 2022 in Hamburg, New York during a powerful winter storm.

John Normile/Getty Images

As of Saturday night, at least 345,000 customers were without power nationwide, according to the outage-tracking site Of those, more than 170,000 were in the New England area.

Deep snow, single-digit temperatures and day-long power outages sent Buffalo residents scrambling Saturday to get out of their houses wherever there was warmth. New York Gov. Cathy Hochul said Buffalo Niagara International Airport will be closed until Monday morning and nearly every fire truck in the city is stuck in the snow.

“No matter how many emergency vehicles we have, they can’t get through the conditions as we speak,” Hochul said.

Forecasters said 28 inches of snow had already accumulated Saturday in Buffalo – part of an area that saw 6 feet a little over a month ago, resulting in three deaths. More expected overnight.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncartz said the blizzard could be “the worst storm in the history of our community.” He said ambulances take more than three hours to make one trip to a hospital. There were plows on the roads, but heavy snowdrifts, abandoned cars and downed power lines slowed progress.

Ice covers Hoak's restaurant on the shores of Lake Erie on December 24, 2022 in Hamburg, New York.
Ice covers Hoak’s restaurant on the shores of Lake Erie on December 24, 2022 in Hamburg, New York.

John Normile/Getty Images

Blinding blizzards, freezing rain and frigid cold also knocked out power in places from Maine to Seattle, as a major electric grid operator warned the 65 million people it serves in the eastern US that permanent outages may be necessary.

Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection said power plants were struggling to operate in the cold weather and asked residents in 13 states to conserve electricity at least through Christmas morning. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to 10 million people in the state and parts of six surrounding counties, ordered local power companies to carry out planned outages but suspended the measure until Saturday afternoon. Kickoff for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans in Nashville has been delayed an hour due to a planned power outage.

The PJM Interconnection, which covers all or parts of 13 states and Washington, D.C., also warned that ongoing power outages could be needed.

A powerful storm covers much of the US

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In North Carolina, 169,000 customers were without power Saturday afternoon, down from a peak of more than 485,000, but utility officials said rolling power outages would continue for “the next several days.”

Among those without power was James Reynolds of Greensboro, who said his roommate, a 70-year-old with diabetes and severe arthritis, spent the morning huddled next to a kerosene heater with indoor temperatures “in the 50s.”

In Jackson, Mississippi, officials said Saturday the city’s water supply system – which partially collapsed in late August – was experiencing “variable” pressure Saturday afternoon amid cool temperatures.

Some residents in Mississippi’s capital city may temporarily experience low water pressure, officials warned. In the lead up to the “Arctic blast” that brought dangerously cold air to Jackson, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba warned that the city’s water distribution system remains a “tremendous vulnerability.”

Ticket prices for Chicago’s Soldier Field on Saturday dropped faster than the temperature, with some seats going for $10 on third-party sites to see the Bears take over Buffalo Bills. The starting temperature was 9 degrees at minus -12 cold wind. It was Buffalo’s coldest road game by temperature since at least 1967.

In Montana, temperatures have been in the minus 40s or worse for most of the week, and ranchers are scrambling to keep their livestock safe.

On an Ohio highway, four people were killed in a massive pileup Friday involving about 50 vehicles. A Kansas City, Missouri, driver was killed Thursday after sliding into a creek, and three others died Wednesday in separate crashes on icy roads in northern Kansas.

An Ohio utility worker was also killed Friday while trying to restore power, a company said. Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative said the 22-year-old died in an “electrical contact incident” near Pedro in Lawrence County.

A Vermont woman died in a hospital Friday after a tree snapped in high winds and fell on her. Police in Colorado Springs say they have found the dead body of a man who appeared to be homeless as freezing temperatures and snow descended on the region. In Madison, Wisconsin, a 57-year-old woman died Friday after falling through the ice on a river, the Rock County Sheriff’s Office said.

In Lansing, Michigan, an 82-year-old woman died after she was found curled up in the snow outside her assisted living community Friday morning, Bath police said. A snowplow driver found the woman while temperatures were around 10 degrees.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Bescher said one person was killed in a weather-related crash in western Kentucky and a homeless man died in Louisville.

On Interstate 71 in Kentucky, Terri Henderson and her husband, Rick, were stuck in a massive traffic jam caused by multiple crashes for 34 hours. The truck drivers endured the wait in a rig equipped with a diesel heater, toilet and refrigerator, but still regretted trying to drive from Alabama to their home near Akron, Ohio, for Christmas.

“I wish we would have stayed,” Terry Henderson said after they got moving again on Saturday. “We had to sit down.”

The storm was almost unprecedented in its scope, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border. About 60 percent of the U.S. population faces some kind of winter weather warning or advisory, and temperatures fell sharply below normal from east of the Rockies to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.

In Mexico, migrants camped near the US border in unseasonably cold temperatures as they awaited a US Supreme Court ruling on pandemic-era restrictions that have prevented many from seeking asylum. Dozens of migrants they also lived and slept on the streets of the Texas border city of El Paso in sub-zero temperatures waiting for the shelters to open. Most were dressed in donated winter clothing that they received from sympathetic locals and volunteers,

Forecasters said a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a severe storm — has developed near the Great Lakes, producing blizzards including high winds and snow.

Western New York often sees dramatic lake-effect snow, which is caused by cool air picking up moisture from warm water and then dumping it on the ground. But even local residents found conditions dire in the run-up to Christmas.

Latrisha Stroud said she and her two daughters, ages 1 and 12, have been stranded without heat or electricity in their house in Buffalo since Friday afternoon, with the snow too deep to leave.

“I have to go through a snowbank to get out,” Stroud told the AP. “There’s a warming center, I just need a ride to get there.”

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