AP: Massive winter storm brings rolling blackouts, power outages

The Firestone family makes their way across Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, N.Y. after stocking up on supplies at the grocery store, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Winter weather is blanketing the U.S. as a massive storm sent temperatures crashing and created whiteout conditions.(Derek Gee /The Buffalo News via AP)
The Firestone family makes their way across Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, N.Y. after stocking up on supplies at the grocery store, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Winter weather is blanketing the U.S. as a massive storm sent temperatures crashing and created whiteout conditions.(Derek Gee /The Buffalo News via AP)

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Tens of millions of Americans endured bone-chilling temperatures, blizzard conditions, power outages and canceled holiday gatherings Friday from a winter storm that forecasters said was nearly unprecedented in its scope, exposing about 60% of the U.S. population to some sort of winter weather advisory or warning.

More than 200 million people were under an advisory or warning on Friday, the National Weather Service said. The weather service’s map “depicts one of the greatest extents of winter weather warnings and advisories ever,” forecasters said.

Power outages have left about 1.4 million homes and businesses in the dark, according to the website PowerOutage, which tracks utility reports. Utilities in Nashville, Memphis and throughout the Tennessee Valley said they were implementing rolling blackouts Friday to conserve power.

And more than 4,600 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were canceled Friday, according to the tracking site FlightAware, causing more mayhem as travelers try to make it home for the holidays.

“We’ve just got to stay positive,” said Wendell Davis, who plays basketball with a team in France and was waiting at O’Hare in Chicago on Friday after a series of flight cancellations.

The huge storm stretched from border to border. In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights Friday at Toronto Pearson International Airport, beginning at 9 a.m. as meteorologists in the country warned of a potential once-in-a-decade weather event.

And in Mexico, migrants waited near the U.S. border in unusually cold temperatures as they awaited a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether and when to lift pandemic-era restrictions that prevent many from seeking asylum.

Forecasters said a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — had developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.

Crashes have claimed at least five lives, all involving motorists. At least one person died in a massive pileup involving at least 50 vehicles on the Ohio Turnpike, the state highway patrol said. One driver was killed Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri, after skidding into a creek. Three other people were killed in separate crashes Wednesday on icy northern Kansas roads, the state patrol said.

Michigan also faced a deluge of crashes, including one involving nine semitrailers.

Activists also were rushing to get homeless people out of the cold. Nearly 170 adults and children were keeping warm early Friday in Detroit at a shelter and a warming center that are designed to hold 100 people.

“This is a lot of extra people” but it wasn’t an option to turn anyone away, said Faith Fowler, the executive director of Cass Community Social Services, which runs both facilities.

In Chicago, Andy Robledo planned to spend the day organizing efforts to check on people without housing through his nonprofit, Feeding People Through Plants. Robledo and volunteers build tents modeled on ice-fishing tents, including a plywood subfloor.

“It’s not a house, it’s not an apartment, it’s not a hotel room. But it’s a huge step up from what they had before,” Robledo said.

In Portland, Oregon, nearly 800 people slept at five emergency shelters on Thursday night, as homeless outreach teams fanned out to distributed cold-weather survival gear.

All bus service was suspended in the greater Seattle area Friday morning. And DoorDash suspended delivery service because of hazardous conditions in parts of several states.

The power ceased at Jaime Sheehan’s Maryland bakery for about 90 minutes Friday, shutting off the convection oven and stilling the mixer she needed to make butter cream.

“Thankfully, all of the orders that were going out today already finished yesterday,” she said a few moments before the power returned.

At about the same time, Corey Newcomb and his family were entering their sixth hour without power at their home in Phenix, Virginia, a small town about 93 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Richmond.

“We are coping and that’s about it,” Newcomb, 50, said in a Facebook message to The Associated Press, adding that he needs to run a generator because he has family with health problems.

In far northern Indiana, lake-effect snow rolling off Lake Michigan could boost storm totals to well over a foot in some areas, said Mark Steinwedel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Syracuse, Indiana.

“It’s really going to add up,” he said, predicting “pretty awful travel.”

The weather service is forecasting the coldest Christmas in more than two decades in Philadelphia, where school officials shifted classes online Friday.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said she was deploying the National Guard to haul timber to the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes and help with snow removal.

“We have families that are way out there that we haven’t heard from in two weeks,” Wayne Boyd, chief of staff to the Rosebud Sioux president, said.

Fearing that some are running out of food, the tribe was hoping to get a helicopter on Saturday to check on the stranded. The tribe also was looking into reports of deaths. During last week’s storm, a 12-year-old with a medical condition died after medical responders couldn’t reach the home, Boyd said.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe, meanwhile, was using snowmobiles to reach members who live at the end of miles-long dirt roads.

“It’s been one heck of a fight so far,” said tribal President Frank Star Comes Out.

In Maine, gusts approaching 70 mph (113 kph) were reported along the coast Friday morning. Atop New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast, the wind topped 150 mph (241 kph).

In Boston, rain combined with a high tide, sent waves over the seawall at Long Wharf and flooded some downtown streets.

It was so bad in Vermont that Amtrak canceled service for the day, and nonessential state offices were closing early.

“I’m hearing from crews who are seeing grown trees ripped out by the roots,” Mari McClure, president of Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, said at a news conference.

Calling it a “kitchen sink storm,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency Friday as wintry weather heads into the state.

In eastern Iowa, sports broadcaster Mark Woodley became a Twitter sensation after he was called on to do live broadcasts outdoors in the wind and snow because sporting events were called off. By midday Friday, a compilation of his broadcasts had been viewed nearly 5 million times on Twitter.

“I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news,” he told an anchor. “The good news is that I can still feel my face right now. The bad news is, I kind of wish I couldn’t.”

Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press journalists Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit; Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon; Zeke Miller in Washington; and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.


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