Dangerous winter kills 18 people in the United States and cripples Buffalo

Millions of Americans woke up in the dark to a blustery white Christmas following a severe winter storm that affected more than half the country and killed at least 18 people.

About 60% of the US population was under a winter weather advisory or warning this weekend and much of the eastern half of the country was struggling with temperatures well below normal.

In western New York, snow was falling at a rate of three inches per hour and a driving ban was in effect in Erie County Sunday morning, according to The Buffalo News.

At least three people in the area were killed by blizzard conditions that were exacerbated by wind gusts of up to 79 miles per hour Friday, creating “zero visibility,” according to the National Weather Service.

Wind gusts had slowed to 40 miles per hour on Sunday, but 4 to 5 feet of snow was forecast for the city through Sunday evening, and more than 28,000 homes were without power on Christmas morning, according to Poweroutage.us.

The dangerous and potentially record-breaking conditions were caused by a bomb cyclone – which occurs when atmospheric pressure drops and cold air collides with warmer moist air with explosive effect.

Rescuers were suffocated by the rapid snowfall and nearly every fire truck in the city was grounded, Governor Kathy Hochul said. Snowdrifts in the city reached 6 feet.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said ambulances were taking three hours per trip and the extreme weather event could be “the worst storm in our community’s history.”

“So many neighborhoods, especially in the city of Buffalo, are still impassable,” he warned.

“It’s like a Category 3 hurricane with a pile of snow mixed in,” Chief Tim Carney of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office told the newspaper of the brutal conditions.

Buffalo was hit so hard by the storm that its police department on Sunday urged all residents with a snowmobile to reach out to help with search and recovery efforts, according to a tweet from a Buffalo News reporter.

Christmas decorations are covered in snow on December 24, 2022 in Hamburg, New York.
John Normile/Getty Images

Jeremy Manahan braved the snow and cold to charge his phone in his car after going nearly 30 hours without power.

“There is a heated shelter, but that would be too far for me. I can’t drive, obviously, because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t stay outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite.”

Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was taking his family to Canada for the holidays when their vehicle got stuck in Buffalo on Friday. They spent hours in the vehicle trying to stay warm until it was almost buried in snow.

car on Lafayette Avenue after getting stuck in a snowdrift
A car on Lafayette Avenue got stuck in a snowdrift in Buffalo on Saturday.
Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP

On Saturday morning, the SUV was nearly out of gas and Ilunga ferried her 6-year-old daughter, Destiny, to a nearby shelter while Cindy, 16, and their Pomeranian pup followed in her footsteps.

“If I stay in this car, I’m going to die here with my children,” he remembers thinking. When the desperate bet paid off and the family arrived at the shelter, Ilunga cried.

“It’s something I will never forget in my life,” he said.

A giant tree sits at the intersection of West Delavan Avenue and Bidwell Parkway in Buffalo, NY, Saturday, December 24, 2022
A giant tree stands at the intersection of West Delavan Avenue and Bidwell Parkway in Buffalo on December 24.
Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP

The prolonged effects of winter storm Elliot were felt coast to coast, with power outages in communities from Maine to Washington State.

Cold weather was felt from Canada to Mexico, and migrants awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on a pandemic-era ruling that expelled them from entering the country were camping near the border at sub-zero temperatures.

On the Ohio Turnpike, four people died in a pileup involving more than four dozen vehicles, and four more died in car crashes in Missouri and Kansas.

A lone pedestrian on snowshoes crosses Colonial Circle as St. John's Grace Episcopal Church rises above blowing snow in blizzard conditions in Buffalo, NY on Saturday, December 24, 2022
A lone pedestrian on snowshoes crosses Colonial Circle in blizzard conditions in Buffalo on December 24, 2022.
Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP

The cold killed an apparently homeless man in Colorado and a woman died in Wisconsin after falling through river ice. A Vermont woman was killed when she was struck by a falling tree branch and an Ohio utility worker was electrocuted.

Blizzard and travel warnings were in effect in Montana and parts of Idaho through Christmas Day.

“Travel can be very difficult, if not impossible,” advised the National Weather Service. “Widespread blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility, while blowing snow could lead to complete lane blockages.”

A plow removes ice and snow along the Lake Erie shoreline on December 24, 2022 in Hamburg, New York
A snowplow removes ice and snow along Lake Erie on Saturday.
John Normile/Getty Images

As of 7:30 a.m., 2,735 flights had been canceled on Christmas morning and 5,519 flights had been delayed coast to coast, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

More than 91,000 homes and businesses were in the dark on Maine’s Christmas morning, and restoration for many could take days, utility crews say.

Yet even as a major utility warned of power outages that could affect 65 million people in the eastern United States, crews had been working to turn on the juice for hundreds of thousands of people in time for Christmas morning.

Ice covers the shore of Lake Erie on December 24, 2022 in Hamburg, New York.
The suburbs of Buffalo and surrounding areas were hit hard by winter storm Elliott.
John Normile/Getty Images
Travis Sanchez walks on a snowdrift with a pair of shovels for a stranded motorist on Chenango Street in Buffalo, NY on Saturday, December 24, 2022
About 60% of the US population was under a winter weather advisory or warning this weekend.
Derek Gee/The Buffalo News via AP

Only about 6,500 customers were in the dark in North Carolina, down from a peak of nearly half a million. Outside of Maine, much of the rest of New England has been restored, a day after some 273,000 customers in the area went black.

Many arrivals stranded at the Urban Truth Ministry in Buffalo on Christmas Eve had ice and snow stuck to their clothes as their faces were frozen red from single-digit temperatures.

“It’s moving to see the hurt they thought they weren’t going to survive, and to see that we had opened the church, and it gave them a sense of relief,” said worker Vivian Robinson. from the shelter.

“Those who are here really enjoy themselves. It will be a different Christmas for everyone.

With AP wires

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