Extreme winter weather is creating travel mayhem across 30 states in America, where satellite images from NASA show the frigid blanket covering over 2,000 miles of land from Texas to Maine. The impact is expected to be felt by around 100 million people.
The weather has struck at America’s heartland, carrying a paralyzing punch of dangerous ice and snow that has closed airports, schools, colleges, and government offices.
Most major US airlines have already warned customers of possible flight delays and cancellations, and many have announced flexible rebooking policies as the superstorm is developing. Delta Air Lines Inc. said it cancelled more than 625 flights and widespread cancellations are expected from other airlines as well. Chicago airports reported 650 flight cancellations. JetBlue cancelled flights out of New York Wednesday morning and also for later in the day out of Boston.
Ice-covered streets were deserted in Super Bowl host city Dallas, whiteouts shut down Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and more is on the way. Chicago expected two feet of snow, Indianapolis an inch of ice, and the northeast more ice and snow in what is shaping up to be a record winter for the region.
In an extraordinary message, the National Weather Service described it as a “life-threatening storm.” Its statement said: “Do not travel. Stay inside. Strong winds and blinding snow will make travel nearly impossible.”
Snowdrifts as high as six to eight feet were expected in some regions and wind chills are forecast to drop to 30 to 50 below in Colorado, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Kansas, Idaho, and even parts of Texas.
Winds topped 60 mph in Texas. In Chicago, public schools called a snow day for the first time in 12 years with both major airports shut down. Thousands of office workers in the city’s famous downtown Loop district left early to avoid transit troubles.
The storm also led Chicago officials to close the city’s busy and iconic Lake Shore Drive while crews tried to plough snow. City officials said the move was temporary but that they could have to close it again if high winds push 25-foot waves from nearby Lake Michigan onto the roadway. There were also huge traffic jams stretching for miles with emergency services struggling to get to traffic accidents.
In Missouri, more than a foot of snow had fallen by midday yesterday, with no end in sight. For the first time in history, the state of Missouri shut down Interstate 70 between St Louis and Kansas City due to a winter storm.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, ice downed power lines leaving 14,000 homes with electricity. “What really gives us nightmares is the prospect of widespread power outages,” said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Massive amounts of ice predicted south of St. Louis followed by strong winds, could cause a repeat of 2006, when ice knocked out power in parts of Missouri for weeks. St. Louis-based utility company AmerenUE had nearly 500 of its own linemen ready to go and was bringing in another 800 from as far away as Michigan.
Hardware stores were selling out of snow shovels, backup generators and ice-melting salt. Grocery stores were doing all they could to keep supplied with the staples. “Milk, bread, toilet paper, and beer,” said Todd Vasel of the St. Louis-based grocery chain Dierbergs, who said pre-storm crowds were more than double the norm.
In state capitols across the Midwest and East, lawmakers cut short their working week because of the storm. Normally bustling downtown streets were quiet, and many stores were closed.
Meteorologist Jeff Johnson of the National Weather Service in Des Moines, Iowa, said the storm was sure to “cripple transportation for a couple of days.”
There are storm watches, warnings, and advisories in more than 30 states and blizzard warnings for eight: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. States of emergency were declared in Wisconsin, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Missouri where 600 National Guards have been mobilized.
The leading edge of the storm slammed first into Texas and Oklahoma after moving out of the Rockies. Both of Oklahoma’s major airports were closed, and the state called the National Guard to help rescue workers search for stranded motorists.
In Texas, thousands of people lost electricity during the frigid conditions. Utility company Oncor reported nearly 27,000 customers without power state-wide, with nearly half of the outages in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The storm is expected to roll into the north east, bringing more snow to a winter-weary region. Towns that have been hit by several blizzards since December feared they wouldn’t have anywhere to put more snow. Ice-coated roads were nearly empty in Dallas, where the few motorists who braved the unfamiliar terrain slowed to a crawl as they passed jack-knifed lorries on slick highways.
The National Football League managed to stick to its Super Bowl schedule, holding media activities at Cowboys Stadium in suburban Arlington as planned, ahead of Sunday’s showpiece game.