Millions of people hunkered down in a deep freeze overnight and early morning to ride out the frigid storm that has killed nearly three dozen people across the United States, trapping some residents inside homes with heaping snow drifts and knocking out power to several hundred thousand homes and businesses.
The scope of the storm has been nearly unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.
Some 1,346 domestic and international flights were canceled as of early Sunday, according to the tracking site FlightAware.
Forecasters said a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — had developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.
The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions, paralyzing emergency response efforts — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in the city was stranded — and shutting down the airport through Monday, according to officials. The National Weather Service said the snow total at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches at 7 a.m. Sunday.
Two people died in their suburban Cheektowaga, N.Y., homes Friday when emergency crews could not reach them in time to treat their medical conditions, and another died in Buffalo. Four more deaths were confirmed overnight, bringing the Erie County total to seven. County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned there may be more deaths.
“Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks,” said Poloncarz. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days.”
Freezing conditions and day-old power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get out of their homes to anywhere that had heat.
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights were steadily being restored across the U.S. According to poweroutage.us, less than 300,000 customers were without power Sunday morning, down from a peak of 1.7 million.
Storm-related deaths were reported in recent days all over the country: seven in Erie County, New York; six dead in Ohio, including four in an Ohio Turnpike pileup involving some 50 vehicles, a man whose sport utility vehicle ran into a snowplow and an electrocuted utility worker; four motorists killed in separate crashes in Missouri and Kansas; a Vermont woman struck by a falling branch; an apparently homeless man found amid Colorado’s subzero temperatures; a woman who fell through Wisconsin river ice.
In Florida, the thermometer plunged below freezing for the first time in almost five years at Tampa International Airport, and temperatures dropped into the 20s and 30s in other parts of central Florida area, according to the National Weather Service.
In South Florida, temperatures dropped to as low as 43 degrees in West Palm Beach. The temperature drop was conducive to iguanas falling out of trees since the cold-blooded reptiles typically become immobilized in unusually cold weather.