WASHINGTON: A “once in a generation” winter storm threatened Wednesday to wreak havoc on the vacation travel plans of millions of Americans.
The National Weather Service (NWS) warned that the storm would produce “a multitude of weather hazards”, including blizzards and life-threatening wind chill, in the north, central and east of the country.
Airlines have told vacationers to prepare for delays and cancellations as an arctic cold front grips the northern plains on Wednesday, sweeps across the Midwest and heads for the east coast on Friday just before Christmas.
“This won’t be your average cold front as temperatures could drop 20 degrees or more within hours,” the NWS said, bringing “record freezing temperatures” to the Gulf Coast and eastern United States from here Friday.
He said the Great Lakes region could expect more than a foot (30.5 centimeters) of snow.
“Wind chill values ​​could drop to minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 57 degrees Celsius) in parts of the central high plains,” the NWS said, warning that “cold of this magnitude could lead to frostbite on the exposed skin in minutes.”
“Prepare now for extreme cold and ensure animals and livestock outside have sufficient shelter,” he said.
The NWS said wind gusts over 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour and snow will bring blizzard conditions from the northern and central plains to the Great Lakes, creating “extremely hazardous travel conditions for drivers and air travel”.
The storm comes as the Transportation Security Administration said it expects holiday travel volume to be near pre-pandemic levels, with the busiest day Thursday.
The American Automobile Association estimated that more than 112 million people would travel 50 miles or more from home between Friday and January 2, the vast majority – 102 million – by car.
The Federal Aviation Administration has warned that high winds and heavy snow could delay flights at major air travel hubs in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago and Denver.
In Denver, for example, the temperature was expected to drop from a high of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday to minus 16 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday.
Authorities in the Colorado capital have opened the Denver Coliseum as an emergency warming center.
AccuWeather forecasters said the storm could quickly develop into what is known as a “bomb cyclone” through a process called “bombogenesis”, when barometric pressure drops and an air mass cold collides with a warm air mass.
The NWS in Buffalo, New York called it a “single storm” with wind gusts over 65 mph, wind chill as low as 10 to 20 degrees below zero and power outages scattered or possibly generalized.
Minneapolis forecasters described it as a “high-end, life-threatening event” that “must be taken seriously.”
In Fort Worth, Texas, the NWS told residents the cold snap is not expected to be as devastating as February of last year, when freezing temperatures knocked out power to millions across the Lone Star State and caused dozens of deaths.
And in Washington, lawmakers were scrambling to complete work on a sweeping $1.7 trillion spending package before the massive winter storm complicated travel plans.

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