Epic winter storm batters US
An epic winter storm buried more than a third of the United States in drifting snow, sleet and ice that ground air and road travel to a halt and left tens of thousands without power yesterday.
The storm – one of the largest winter storms since the 1950s, according to Nasa –stretched for more than 3,000 kilometres from Texas to the northeastern state of Maine, and forecasters warned that trying to get around could be deadly.
“Do not travel!,” the National Weather Service warned.
Around 100 million people were affected by the historic storm which began battering the central United States Monday night and wasn’t expected to move offshore until today.
Blizzard, winter storm, freezing rain and wind chill warnings were issued for more than half of the 50 US states, and thunderstorms and driving rain drenched the warmer, southern end of the storm in Louisiana and Mississippi.
“The extreme conditions are making it extremely difficult for rescue personnel to reach the stranded,” the National Weather Service warned.
“Before considering getting on the roads this morning, ask yourself if getting to your destination is worth risking your life.”
Television footage showed the fierce winds made even walking difficult, with pedestrians blown off their feet as they braved white-out conditions and tried to cross icy roads.
“It’s amazing – it’s such a huge city and it’s silent,” said school teacher Elana Hiller who waded through hip-deep snow along Chicago’s lakeshore yesterday morning.
“It’s like heaven out here. Everything is white and fresh and quiet.”
Downed power lines and ice led to widespread power cuts, with 95,000 people without electricity in Illinois, 50,000 in Indiana and another tens of thousands around Cleveland, Ohio.
Much of the state of Texas was subjected to rolling power outages as the state’s grid operator tried to cope with overloading circuits and spikes in demand amid the unusually cold temperatures.
Residents waking without power faced another layer of danger, as coming in behind the storm was a blast of frigid air.
“Lurking behind this impressive winter storm is a powerful shot of Arctic air as a frigid surface high drops down from central Canada,” the weather service warned.
For example, Fargo, North Dakota was an icy -27 degrees Celsius at 1600 GMT, with wind that could cause frostbite on exposed skin in less than five minutes.
States of emergency were declared in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma and the National Guard was called out to help rescue stranded motorists.