CHICAGO — A freezing winter storm battered the United States for a third day on Friday, leaving more than a million homes and businesses without power, causing crashes and epic delays on icy highways and stranding thousands of travelers at airports just before Christmas.
Much of the country shared in the misery, whether from snow, ice or sub-zero temperatures: About two-thirds of the US population – more than 200 million people – made the subject to winter warnings or advisories at some point on Friday. Even New Orleans, famous for its mild climate, opened three warming centers overnight.
Meteorologists said the storm was not quite over. Freezing air was expected to persist throughout the holiday weekend in the Midwest, Northeast and South. Blizzard conditions could continue in places around the Great Lakes region for days, including in Buffalo, a city that saw winds of 70 miles per hour on Friday. In New York, the wind chill is expected to drop below zero and stay there through Saturday morning.
For many, the cold was the storm’s most enduring calling card.
“It’s cold enough that if you have a walk-in freezer and you get half naked and sit for a while, that’s how it feels,” said Randy Hayden, 70 year-old, who runs a 20,000-acre cattle ranch in Gillette, Wyo., where the wind chill felt like 45 degrees below zero.
Equally painful was the cancellation of thousands of flights, leaving many weary travelers stuck in airport terminals, realizing they weren’t going to be home for the holidays as planned.
Sharisse Wooding, 41, principal of a school in Memphis, said her flight back from vacation to New York had been canceled – and rebooked for Monday.
It was all “a little heartbreaking,” she said, lingering at La Guardia airport as she tried to regroup. “That’s not how I’m supposed to spend my Christmas vacation.”
The freezing, wind-whipped air sent shivers down the spine of people across much of the country, especially those used to mild winters. On the roads, at least 12 people died in crashes likely related to the storm in Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio and Oklahoma, authorities said.
In Nashville, a blanket of ice and snow accompanied by zero-degree temperatures left the city’s normally noisy downtown area relatively calm, without the usual crowds of holiday tourists.
Steam rose in the freezing air off the Cumberland River as 29-year-old Kyle Elliott walked overhead on a pedestrian bridge, a guitar strapped to his back. Fifteen minutes into the walk, he could no longer feel his feet.
“I’ve never experienced such cold weather before,” said Elliott, a Tennessee native. “I’ve never felt my facial hair freeze before. I have now.”
In Nashville, about 55,000 customers across the city had lost power as of Friday afternoon, and state officials have appealed to businesses and residents to reduce consumption and help stabilize the grid electric.
Other parts of the country were better prepared for frozen blasts.
Angus cattle rushed down a grazing trail on Steve and Tara Agan’s farm about an hour south of Des Moines on Friday, eager to feast on silage and alfalfa.
Temperatures there had reached 9 below zero overnight and gusts of wind as cold as 27 below zero whipped snow around them.
“Your eyelashes freeze in minutes here,” Ms Agan said, adding that the biggest challenge was keeping her fingers warm, even with thick gloves, while bottle feeding some of the calves. “But you have no choice. You have to get out. Cows need food in winter as much as in summer.
Goran Nedeljkovic, 59, a Chicago mail carrier, said he was surprised the Postal Service is forcing mail carriers to walk Friday.
“I have five or six diapers so my body is fine, but my fingers keep freezing through my gloves, my glasses keep fogging up and my scanner doesn’t work because of the cold,” he said. declared.
Many New Englanders reacted to the storm with a characteristic mix of stoicism and acceptance, even as downed trees and tidal surges knocked out power and closed roads. At The Landing, a brown-shingled restaurant on the edge of Marblehead Harbor, north of Boston, Dina Sweeney, the manager, stood outside watching the gray waters heave and crash through the metal gratings and railings at the edge of the harbor, scattering seaweed across the parking lot.
Inside the building, she said, the floods caused extensive damage, warping the floor, despite protective hatches built into the structure that allow ocean water to enter and to get out.
“It’s a very angry ocean,” she said.
Power outages spread across the country on Friday. They were particularly widespread in North Carolina, where more than 60,000 customers were affected as of Friday evening, according to the poweroutage.us site.
Caitlin Linney, an electronic music artist, woke up Friday at her parents’ rural home in Efland, about 40 minutes northwest of Raleigh, hoping to start her day with a Peloton yoga class, before heading to realized that they had no electricity.
Ms. Linney’s parents live on a 10-acre property and get their water from a well. But without electricity, there was no water to pump it. So on Friday afternoon, Ms Linney, who had traveled from her home in Southern California for the holidays, was in nearby Durham picking up Vietnamese food for lunch – as well as a fair amount of bottled drinking water.
Power returned to her parents’ house by mid-afternoon, but Ms Linney feared it could go out again, especially as temperatures were set to dip to 9 degrees on Friday evening.
Ms Linney said her father, who is 80, spent the day chain sawing fallen trees and fueling the logs into a wood fire.
“We’re going to keep the woodstove burning,” Ms Linney said. If the power goes out again, she says, they may have to ask to sleep over at a neighbor’s house.
In Atlanta, where residents are used to the occasional cold snap, Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency this week, banning price gouging for heating fuels and warning of icy road conditions.
At Ponce City Market, a hip indoor-outdoor mall along Atlanta’s BeltLine, the city’s recreational trail, most of the action was indoors as shoppers shopped two days before Christmas .
At an outpost of Marine Layer, a clothing store, employee Jennifer Velasco waited for customers in a poofy winter coat and white wool hat. Every time the door opened, the wind and cold came in. Ms. Velasco, who moved to Atlanta from Houston a few months ago, was not happy.
“I hate the cold,” said Ms Velasco, 35. “It’s the worst. It hurts. It’s all dry.”
Local and state authorities have rushed to open emergency shelters for residents who have found themselves without essentials, serving hot meals and handing out supplies.
Weekend weather is expected to dip into the 30s in central Florida, a worrying drop for Keishaun Johnson, who has three children, a dog named Midas and no stable housing situation.
She and her family this week went to a homeless shelter in downtown Orlando, a facility that doubles as a warming center, to gather supplies for the cold snap.
“We have jackets, blankets, all hygiene necessities, clothes, socks, everything,” she said. “Now I’m 100% better with this coming weekend because it was really scary.”
Airports across the country remained busy with Christmas travelers but showed signs that the disruption from the storm was starting to ease.
Lines at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport seemed shorter than the day before, and some travelers said they were pleasantly surprised by the lack of chaos.
“I didn’t think we’d be able to get through the door,” said Joe Netzel, 40, of Chicago, who was waiting to fly to Phoenix with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. “But our flight is on time.”
The report was provided by Eric Adelson from Orlando, Robert Chiarito from Chicago, Ann Hinga Klein from Des Moines, Jenna Russell of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Ellen Yan and Sarah Maslin Nir from New York.