Almost 1.5 million American homes without electricity, thousands of canceled flights, closed highways and sometimes fatal accidents: in the United States, the day before Christmas was disrupted this Friday, December 23 by a storm winter of a rare intensity.
“History” according to the US Weather Service (NWS), it brought heavy snowfall, icy gusts, and temperatures down to -48°C in places, capable of turning boiling water into droplets of ice in a moment.
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Detroit firefighters attempt to clear ice from their fire hoses while battling a warehouse fire on December 23, 2022 in Detroit, USA. © MATTHEW HATCHER / Getty Images via AFP
“I can’t see across the street”
Friday morning, more than 240 million people, or 70% of Americans, were affected by alerts or calls for caution in the United States.
The phenomenon caused chaos in transport. A tile as millions of Americans flood the roads and airports for the holiday season.
In New York State, a travel ban has been issued in Erie County. “We stay at home […] I can’t see across the street” because of the snow, Jennifer Orlando, affected by this ban in the city of Hamburg, told AFP.
Mist rises from Lake Michigan in Chicago on Dec. 23, 2022, where temperatures hit -21C ahead of the Christmas holidays. © KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP
Because of the accident of a vehicle against a power line, she found herself without power for about four hours, she said.
More than 1 million households in the dark
Up to around 1.5 million homes were deprived of electricity on Friday, notably in North Carolina, Maine and Virginia, according to the specialized site Poweroutage.us. On Friday evening, they were still a million in the dark.
The storm was particularly impressive in its magnitude, stretching from the Canadian border in the north to the Mexican border in the south.
In El Paso, Texas, shelters have been opened so that migrants from Mexico can protect themselves from the risk of hypothermia in the freezing temperatures.
But many are too suspicious to accept this offer and many of them “simply sleep wrapped in blankets”, 56-year-old volunteer Rosa Falcon told AFP.
Immigrants warm themselves in front of a fire at dawn after spending the night outside next to the US-Mexico border fence on December 22, 2022 in El Paso, Texas. © JOHN MOORE / AFP
Chaos in transport
Friday evening, the specialized site Flightaware listed 5,500 canceled flights in the United States, the airports most affected being those of Seattle, New York, Chicago or Detroit.
To get to Los Angeles, Christine Lerosen could not board from Vancouver in Canada and had to persuade her brother to drive her to Seattle, to take another plane, with a stopover in Denver.
“My flight from Seattle was delayed, my flight from Denver was delayed and now they’ve lost my luggage,” she sighed to ABC 7.
Travelers walk through Miami International Airport during a winter storm ahead of the Christmas holidays in Miami, Florida on December 23, 2022. © CHANDAN KHANNA /AFP
Several states have declared states of emergency, such as New York, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Georgia and North Carolina. With visibility close to zero, the blizzard and frost affecting much of the country, the roads have become very dangerous.
Vehicles move along a highway in Louisville, Kentucky, in freezing temperatures on December 23, 2022. © LEANDRO LOZADA / AFP
Three deaths in Kentucky
“People should stay at home, not venture onto the roads, warned Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear on CNN. Your family wants to see you home for Christmas, but most of all they want to see you alive. »
He confirmed that three people had died on Kentucky roads. In Oklahoma, at least two people died on the road, according to the agency in charge of emergency management in that state.
In Ohio, a massive collision of about 50 vehicles on a highway killed at least one person, according to local media. In Michigan, traffic on a highway was cut Friday mid-morning due to an accident involving nine tractor-trailers.
A social worker delivers food to people living in a homeless camp December 23, 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky. © JON CHERRY/Getty Images via AFP
“Bomb depression” or “cyclonic”
This storm of rare intensity is caused by a “low pressure bomb” or “cyclonic bomb”: a powerful conflict between two air masses, one very cold from the Arctic and the other tropical from the Gulf of Mexico, aggravated because the atmospheric pressure dropped very quickly, in less than 24 hours.
This type of storm does not occur “only once in a generation”, according to the US National Weather Service in Buffalo.
People brave the weather to run errands in downtown Birmingham, Michigan on December 23, 2022. © JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP
In Chicago, where it was around -20 ° C during the day on Friday, the homeless aid organization Night Ministry expressed concern about the number of beds made available by the city, which it said was insufficient.
“Some of the people we welcome now became homeless just this year, Major Caleb Senn, head of the Salvation Army in Chicago, told AFP. Some are really scared. It’s the first time they’ve been at the mercy of nature with no place to go. »
Canada must also face this phenomenon, with extreme cold, storm and even blizzard alerts issued for a large majority of the territory.
A person rides a bicycle during a winter storm in Toronto Ontario, Canada December 23, 2022. © CARLOS OSORIO / REUTERS
But in Toronto, the freezing temperatures didn’t put off Jennifer Campbell, who came to do some last-minute Christmas shopping in the city center.
“We have big storms regularly and we are adapting, evacuated this tourist from Ontario. We are Canadian, it is our way. »