US holiday travel upended as forecasters warn of ‘bomb cyclone’

Thousands of flights have been canceled and homeless shelters are overflowing amid one of the most dangerous holiday seasons the United States has seen in decades.

Some places have seen temperatures drop 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10C) in a matter of hours as forecasters warn of an impending “bomb cyclone” that could worsen conditions before Christmas.

Freezing air was moving east across the central United States, with wind chill advisories affecting about 135 million people over the next few days, Weather Services meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said Thursday.

Places like Des Moines, Iowa will feel like -38°C, which will cause you to suffer from frostbite in less than five minutes.

An American Airlines plane is de-iced at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)

“It’s not like a snowy day when you were a kid,” President Joe Biden warned Thursday in the Oval Office after a briefing from federal officials. “It’s something serious.”

Forecasters expect a bomb cyclone – when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly during a strong storm – to develop late Thursday and Friday near the Great Lakes. This will cause blizzard conditions including high winds and snow.

In Texas, temperatures were expected to drop rapidly on Thursday, but state leaders promised there would be no repeat of the February 2021 storm that overwhelmed the state’s power grid and was blamed for hundreds of dead.

Elsewhere in the United States, authorities have expressed concern about the potential for power outages and warned people to take precautions to protect the elderly and homeless and livestock – and, if possible, to postpone travel. Some utilities were urging customers to turn down their thermostats to save energy.

More than 2,156 flights within, to or from the United States had been canceled as of Thursday afternoon, according to tracking site FlightAware. Airlines also canceled 1,576 Friday flights. Chicago and Denver airports reported the most cancellations.

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