Pre-Holiday Winter Storm Causes Power Outages and Hits US with Frigid Cold

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CHICAGO — A frigid winter storm pummeled the United States for a third day on Friday, leaving more than one million homes and businesses without power, causing crashes and epic delays on ice-slicked expressways and stranding thousands of travelers at airports just before Christmas.

Most of the country shared in the misery whether from snow, ice or subzero temperatures: Roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population — more than 200 million people — were under winter warnings or advisories at one point on Friday. Even New Orleans, famous for its balmy climate, opened three overnight warming centers.

Meteorologists said that the storm was not quite finished. Freezing air was expected to linger through the holiday weekend in the Midwest, Northeast and South. Blizzard conditions could continue in spots around the Great Lakes region for days, including in Buffalo, a city that experienced 70-mile-per-hour winds on Friday. In New York City, wind chills are expected to drop below zero and stay there into Saturday morning.

For many, the cold was the storm’s most enduring calling card.

“It’s cold enough that if you got a walk-in freezer and got in half-naked and sat around for a while, that’s what it feels like,” said Randy Hayden, 70, who runs a 20,000-acre cattle ranch in Gillette, Wyo., where the wind chill made it feel like 45 degrees below zero.

Just as painful was the cancellation of thousands of flights, leaving many weary travelers stuck in airport terminals realizing that they were not going to be home for the holidays as planned.

Sharisse Wooding, 41, a school principal from Memphis, said her flight home from a vacation in New York City had been canceled — and rebooked for Monday.

It was all “a little heartbreaking,” she said, lingering at La Guardia Airport as she tried to regroup. “This is not how I’m supposed to spend my Christmas break.”

Icy, wind-whipped air left residents shivering across much of the country, especially those who are accustomed to mild winters. On the roads, at least 12 people died in crashes likely related to the storm in Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio and Oklahoma, the authorities said.

In Nashville, a layer of ice and snow accompanied by zero-degree temperatures left the city’s normally boisterous downtown relatively quiet, without the usual throng of tourists for the holidays.

Steam rose into freezing air off the Cumberland River as Kyle Elliott, 29, trudged above it on a pedestrian bridge, a guitar strapped on his back. Fifteen minutes into the walk, he could no longer feel his feet.

“I’ve never experienced weather this cold before,” said Mr. Elliott, a native of Tennessee. “I’ve never felt my facial hair freeze before. I have now.”

In Nashville, roughly 55,000 customers across the city had lost power as of Friday afternoon, and state officials issued a plea to businesses and residents to reduce usage and help stabilize the power grid.

Other parts of the country were more prepared for the frozen blasts.

Angus cattle hurried up a pasture trail on Steve and Tara Agan’s farm about an hour south of Des Moines on Friday, eager to feast on silage and alfalfa.

Temperatures there had reached 9 degrees below zero overnight, and wind gusts as cold as 27 degrees below zero whipped snow around them.

“Your eyelashes freeze in minutes out here,” said Ms. Agan, adding that the biggest challenge was keeping her fingers warm, even in thick gloves, while bottle-feeding some of the calves. “But you don’t have a choice. You have to come out. The cows need fed in the winter just as much as they do in the summer.”

Goran Nedeljkovic, 59, a mail carrier in Chicago, said he was surprised that the postal service required letter carriers to complete their routes by foot on Friday.

“I have five or six layers on, so my body is OK, but my fingertips keep freezing through my gloves, my glasses keep fogging up and my scanner isn’t working because of the cold,” he said.

Many New Englanders reacted to the storm with a characteristic mix of stoicism and acceptance, even as downed trees and tidal surges knocked out power and closed roads. At the Landing, a brown-shingled restaurant at the edge of Marblehead Harbor, north of Boston, Dina Sweeney, the manager, stood outside watching the gray water heave and crash through the metal grates and railings at the harbor’s edge, scattering seaweed across the parking lot.

Inside the building, she said, flooding had caused significant damage, buckling the floor, despite the protective hatches built into the structure that allow the ocean water to pass in and out.

“It’s a very angry ocean,” she said.

Power outages rippled across the country on Friday. They were particularly widespread in North Carolina, where more than 60,000 customers were affected as of Friday evening, according to the website

Caitlin Linney, an electronic music artist, woke up on Friday at her parents’ rural home in Efland, about 40 minutes northwest of Raleigh, hoping to start her day with a Peloton yoga course, before realizing that they had no electricity.

Ms. Linney’s parents live on a 10-acre property and get their water from a well. But no power meant no water to pump it. So on Friday afternoon, Ms. Linney, who had traveled from her home in Southern California for the holidays, was in nearby Durham, picking up Vietnamese food for lunch — as well as a good deal of bottled drinking water.

The power came back on at her parents’ house by midafternoon, but Ms. Linney was concerned it might go out again, particularly as temperatures were expected to plunge to 9 degrees on Friday night.

Ms. Linney said her father, who is 80, had spent the day chain-sawing fallen trees and feeding the logs into a wood-burning fire.

“We’re going to keep the wood stove on,” Ms. Linney said. If the power went out again, she said, they may have to ask to bunk down at a neighbor’s house.

In Atlanta, where residents are used to the occasional cold snap, Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency this week, prohibiting price gouging of heating fuels and warning of black ice on the roads.

At Ponce City Market, a trendy indoor-outdoor mall along the Atlanta BeltLine, the city’s recreation trail, most of the action was inside, as shoppers ran errands two days before Christmas.

At an outpost of Marine Layer, a clothing store, Jennifer Velasco, an employee, was waiting on customers in a poofy winter coat and a white wool hat. Every time the door opened, the wind and cold would come in. Ms. Velasco, who moved to Atlanta from Houston a few months ago, was not pleased.

“I hate the cold,” said Ms. Velasco, 35. “It’s the worst. It hurts. Everything is dry.”

Local and state officials scrambled to open emergency shelters for residents who found themselves lacking the basics, serving hot food and distributing supplies.

The weekend weather is expected to dip into the 30s in Central Florida, a worrisome plunge for Keishaun Johnson, who has three children, a dog named Midas and no stable housing situation.

She and her family went to a homeless shelter this week in downtown Orlando, a facility that is doubling as a warming center, to gather supplies for the cold snap.

“We got jackets, blankets, all the hygiene stuff, clothes, socks, everything,” she said. “Now I’m 100 percent better with this weekend that’s coming up, because it was really scary.”

Across the country, airports remained busy with Christmas travelers, but showed signs that the disruption from the storm was beginning to ease.

Lines at Chicago O’Hare International Airport appeared to be shorter than the day before, and some travelers said they were pleasantly surprised at the lack of chaos.

“I didn’t think we’d be able to get in the door,” said Joe Netzel, 40, of Chicago, who was waiting to fly to Phoenix with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. “But our flight is on time.”

Reporting was contributed by Eric Adelson from Orlando, Robert Chiarito from Chicago, Ann Hinga Klein from Des Moines, Jenna Russell from Marblehead, Mass., and Ellen Yan and Sarah Maslin Nir from New York.

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