More than 100 million people in the US are on winter weather alerts, and this weekend's travel is likely to be a mess because of snow. A lot of flights have already been canceled at major airports because of the storm. Forecasters say that this cold spell could make Christmas the coldest in decades.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said that some parts of the country could get as cold as minus 50F and minus 70F by the end of this week. Meteorologists say that the winter storm could become a "bomb cyclone" by Friday. This is an unofficial term for a strong storm that gets stronger quickly.
The Arctic air mass is expected to reach the US-Mexico border, where strong winds will drop the temperature in El Paso, Texas, to 15F. Even the Sunshine State of Florida is expected to have its coldest Christmas in 30 years.
The NWS has called it a "once-in-a-generation" winter weather event, especially since the pressure of the storm is expected to reach the level of a Category 3 hurricane by the time it gets to the Great Lakes. The storm is also bringing snow and strong winds, which are expected to cause damage and power outages in the Midwest and Canada.
The storm hit on the busiest travel days of the year. The Transportation Security Administration said it thinks the number of people traveling over the holidays will be close to what it was before the pandemic, with Thursday being the busiest day. FlightAware, a site that keeps track of flights, says that more than 5,300 US flights have already been canceled on Thursday and Friday.
This includes flights that were canceled from Chicago's airport, which is one of the busiest in the country. In case there are problems with travel, big airlines like United, Delta, and American have said that people who want to change their flights won't have to pay extra.
This weekend, snow and freezing temperatures are also likely to make it hard to get around by car. On Wednesday, roads along the border between Colorado and Wyoming were closed because it was almost impossible to see.
Several cars on a road covered by snow
More than 100 cars were stuck on snow-covered roads in South Dakota on Wednesday, which led to rescue operations. The airport in the capital city of the state has also shut down.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) said that more than 112 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home between Friday and January 2. Most of them, 102 million, will do so by car.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told MSNBC on Wednesday,
We had a great Thanksgiving week with minimal disruption. Unfortunately, it's not going to be that way going into Christmas.- US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
States of emergency have been declared by the governors of Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, and Oklahoma. The city of Buffalo, New York, has also called a state of emergency, and its schools will be closed on Friday.
Other states, like Maryland, have started emergency response operations ahead of the storm, and othershave opened warming shelters. The Denver Coliseum, which is an indoor arena in Colorado, has been turned into a warming center.
Thursday, US President Joe Biden said that his administration has talked to the governors of the 26 states that are affected and that the federal government is ready to help if it is needed. He also told people to stay home as the situation gets worse. Mr. Biden said, "Please take this storm extremely seriously."