Temperatures plunged far and fast Thursday as a winter storm began forming ahead of Christmas weekend, promising heavy snow, ice, flooding and powerful winds across a broad swath of the United States and complicating holiday travel.
The National Weather Service reported that temperatures across the central High Plains plummeted 50 degrees Fahrenheit in just a few hours. In much of the country, the Christmas weekend could be the coldest in decades.
The frigid air will move through the central United States to the east, with windchill advisories affecting about 135 million people over the coming days, weather service meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said Thursday.
Forecasters are expecting a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — to develop near the Great Lakes, which will increase winds and create blizzard conditions, Cook said.
In Texas, temperatures were expected to quickly 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.
Gov. Greg Abbott, in a news conference Wednesday, was confident the state could handle the increased demand for energy as the temperatures dropped.
“I think trust will be earned over the next few days as people see that we have ultra-cold temperatures and the grid is going to be able to perform with ease,” he said.
The cold weather extended to El Paso and 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.
Elsewhere in the U.S., authorities worried about the potential for power failures and warned people to take precautions to protect older and homeless people and livestock — and, if possible, to postpone travel. More than 1,400 flights had been canceled Thursday morning within, in or out of the U.S., according to the tracking site FlightAware.
As the winter storm approached, some shelters in the Detroit area already were at capacity. The Detroit News reported that the 140 beds at COTS, a family-only shelter in Detroit, were full. The facility is hoping to make room for others, though, spokesperson Aisha Morrell-Ferguson told the newspaper Wednesday.
“We are not sending anyone back into this cold,” Morrell-Ferguson said. “It does not matter if we have to pull out air mattresses. We are doing everything we can, looking at alternative spaces to support the needs that may arise.”
Air, bus and train travelers braced for cancellations and delays.
In Montana, several ski areas announced closures Wednesday and Thursday because of the extreme cold and sustained winds. Others scaled back offerings. Schools were also closed due to the cold.
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 (105 kph), whiteouts and the potential for extensive power outages. The NHL postponed the Buffalo Sabres’ home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and rescheduled it for March 4.
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 (100 kph) were predicted to cause blowing snow and limited visibility, Environment Canada said.
—Heather Hollingsworth And Jill Bleed, The Associated Press