A severe frost that covered much of the nation ahead of the holiday weekend put more than two-thirds of the US population under an extreme weather alert, preventing travel, cutting off electricity to homes and businesses, and resulting in at least three fatalities.
More than 240 million people were under weather advisories on Friday, according to the National Weather Service, as a column of brutal cold that spanned from Texas to Montana began to march eastward. Parts of the Southern states of Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia have warnings for hard freeze.
In Kentucky, two people were killed in car accidents and a homeless person died, Governor Andy Beshear announced on Friday.
“Please stay home and stay safe,” he said on Twitter.
Numbing cold intensified by high winds even extended to the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing single-digit wind chill temperatures to the border city of El Paso, Texas.
Farther north, heavy snowfall was forecast in parts of Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York, including upwards of 35 inches in Buffalo, Weather Service meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said.
According to the EPA, the map depicting current or approaching winter risks “depicts one of the largest extents of winter weather alerts and advisories ever.”
Just a few days before Christmas, the severe weather caused disruptions to households and holiday plans. According to the tracking website Poweroutage.us, about 1.5 million households and businesses in the United States were without power on Friday. Strong gusts have delayed power restoration operations in North Carolina, where some 187,000 people were without electricity.
In Maine, with about a tenth of North Carolina’s population, power was out to more than 114,000 customers Friday afternoon.
Severe winds, ice and snow also upended commercial air traffic during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.
More than 4,000 U.S. flights were canceled Friday, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. About 500 flights into or out of Seattle’s major airport were axed as a separate storm system brought ice and freezing rain to the Pacific Northwest.
Between Friday and January 2, 112.7 million individuals, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), intended to travel more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) from their homes. Due to hazardous weather making it difficult to travel by plane and by car over the weekend, that number was probably going to decline.
Authorities in Buffalo, New York, have imposed a driving prohibition.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Friday that the storm has moved fast over some locations, which is the only positive development. Many airports, including Denver, are anticipated to recover swiftly from a wave of cancellations and delays. He predicted that other hubs, including Chicago, could bounce back later on Friday.