At least five US states (Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Georgia and North Carolina) have implemented emergency plans, and others may implement similar measures.
“It’s not a snow day like when we were kids,” President Joe Biden told reporters at a White House press conference about the weather and traffic conditions.
“This is a serious matter,” he added, urging people to heed warnings from local authorities. Parts of the country are being battered by a dangerous cold front from the Arctic, with some snow showers hampering visibility and making road conditions dangerous.
AquaWeather meteorologists say a cold storm can quickly develop into what’s known as a “bomb cyclone” when pressure drops and a cold air mass collides with another warm air mass.
National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Michael Charnick posted a video on Twitter in which motorists could be observed struggling on a road between Colorado and Wyoming, where temperatures suddenly dropped to minus 40.
The NWS posted warnings on Twitter that snow is already in place or expected from the central plains to the east and northeast coasts of the country.
“People exposed to extreme cold can experience frostbite within minutes,” the weather service warned. “The areas most prone to frostbite are unprotected skin and limbs such as the hands and feet. Hypothermia is another threat during extreme cold.
In the Midwest, winds stranded about 100 motorists in Rapid City and Wall, South Dakota, the Bennington County Sheriff tweeted. “It is advised not to travel,” he added.
More than 8 inches of snow fell in Minneapolis and St. Paul in 24 hours, the NWS said Thursday morning.
To the east, in Buffalo, New York, forecasters called it a “once-in-a-generation storm,” with sustained winds of 65 mph (105 km/h), a wind chill of 10 to 20 degrees below zero and scattered or general energy levels.
Across the border, eastern Canada experiences similar conditions, with heavy snowfall and rapidly dropping temperatures. Toronto’s busiest airport in the country is already feeling the brunt of the climate chaos, with delays and canceled flights.
The storm coincided with a Transportation Safety Administration bulletin that said holiday travel levels were close to the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and peaked on Thursday, three days before Christmas.
Until now, most US flights have taken place in Chicago – O’Hare and Denver, the two international hubs.
American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have already taken steps to allow passengers to change their flights at no extra charge.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that between Friday and January 2, more than 112 million people will travel more than 80 km, most of them by car.