The “once-in-a-generation” deadly “bomb cyclone” moving across the US is expected to hit peak intensity Friday — bringing one of the coldest-ever Christmases as well as travel chaos with more than 5,000 flights grounded.
Winter Storm Elliott has already triggered a state of emergency for New York, starting at 6 a.m. Friday, and left two-thirds of the nation under some form of an extreme weather alert.
Temperatures have already plummeted 50 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas — with forecasters warning of worse to come.
“If you’re waking up in Chicago at 27 (degrees) and feeling like it’s cold, there’s a whole new reality coming your way,” Fox Weather meteorologist Britta Merwin said.
“Behind this cold front, it gets dangerous.”
Places like Des Moines, Iowa, will feel like minus 37 degrees, making it possible to suffer frostbite in less than five minutes. Denver was the coldest it has been in 32 years on Thursday, when the temperature dropped to minus 24.
Still, the storm has yet to hit peak intensity, which is forecast to hit the Great Lakes later Friday, the Fox forecast center said.
Hundreds of thousands of homes across the US were already without power by early Friday, with high winds expected to knock out more as the storm intensifies, sparking a life-threatening situation for those who lose power in such frigid temperatures.
On the roads, treacherous driving conditions have already been blamed for at least two deaths.
One man was killed in the Portland area of Oregon when a semi-truck crashed into the scene of a previous wreck. In Kansas City, Missouri, one person died after a vehicle overturned into an icy creek, police said.
Wind gusts of 50 mph thrashed the area around Portland, sending trees crashing on top of homes. In the Columbia River Gorge, gusts topped 80 mph, creating potentially dangerous travel conditions.
Officials across the US are urging people to stay home rather than risk their lives trying to travel in one of the busiest periods of the year.
“This event could be life-threatening if you are stranded,” the National Weather Service in Minnesota warned, where officials reported dozens of crashes.
More than 5,000 flights were canceled for Thursday and Friday, with two major airports in Chicago accounting for nearly 1,300 of the cancellations, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.
Those seeking alternative routes will also struggle, with Amtrak canceling dozens of trains through Christmas, including trains from New York to Chicago.
Some travelers insist they will do whatever it takes, even after warnings that traveling during the historic storm could prove fatal.
Brandon Mattis, 24, was stuck at New York’s La Guardia Airport after his flight was canceled to Atlanta, Georgia, where he still intends to join the rest of his family for Christmas celebrations.
“We’re trying to … figure out other routes. Maybe even taking a bus from here to Atlanta, which it’ll take us about 21 hours,” he said.
“That’s really inconvenient. But anything we can do just to get there (is) what we’re going to do.”
With Post wires