Power Outages, Flight Delays as US Storm Leaves Trail of Chaos

Power Outages, Flight Delays as US Storm Leaves Trail of Chaos

Dangerously cold temperatures settled across much of the United States and Canada on Saturday as a massive winter storm early in the Christmas holiday disrupted road and air travel, leaving millions without power and experiencing rolling blackouts.

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(Bloomberg) — Dangerously cold temperatures settled across much of the U.S. and Canada on Saturday as a massive winter storm early in the Christmas holidays upended road and air traffic, leaving millions without power and experiencing rolling blackouts.

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Temperatures will be 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below normal in much of the central and eastern United States, the National Weather Service said, and snow totals have reached or are near record levels in parts of the Midwest. Significant lake-effect snow and blizzards slammed parts of the Great Lakes while about 3,000 miles away in the Pacific Northwest, moisture is interacting with the Arctic air and bringing with it dangerous conditions, the NWS said.

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Thousands of flights have been canceled or delayed, according to tracking site FlightAware, and road trips have been tricky for those looking to visit family or friends over the bank holiday weekend. Accustomed to heavy snowfall, western New York’s Erie County has imposed a driving ban during snowstorms. Two people died overnight when first responders could not reach them, county officials said.

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The cold temperatures are straining the power grids, leading to one of the most extensive power outages to hit the US in years. According to Poweroutage.us, which tracks utility websites, nearly 1.6 million homes and businesses from Texas to New England were without power as of 11 a.m. Saturday in New York. The hardest hit states were North Carolina, Tennessee and Maine.

The country’s largest power grid, which stretches from Illinois to New Jersey and serves 65 million people, said it could be forced to deploy blackouts as the cold has pushed demand for electricity to near unprecedented levels. The carrier, PJM Interconnection LLC, urged customers to try and save.

“The possibility of rotating customer outages is real,” said Mike Bryson, PJM’s senior vice president of operations, in a video recording posted to Twitter. “We will do everything we can to prevent that from happening, but we think it’s important that consumers are ready should we have to take that step.”

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In Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority ordered power outages for the second straight day as demand for electricity soared while high winds took power plants offline. Duke Energy Corp. performs Rolling Outs in North Carolina.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper said he asked the city’s NFL team, the Titans, to postpone their game against the Houston Texans. The game is scheduled to kick off at 1:02 p.m. local time.

U.S. natural gas production suffered its worst daily decline in more than a decade on Friday, as fluids froze in pipes, forcing wells to be shut down. Heating and power generation fuel supplies in the Lower 48 states shrank nearly 10 billion cubic feet, or about 10%, from the previous day, according to BloombergNEF, as temperatures fell below freezing in key manufacturing areas, including key supplier Texas.

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Meanwhile, domestic demand surged to its highest daily level since early 2019. Early pipeline nominations tracked by BNEF suggest gas supplies could bounce back on Saturday while still lagging behind normal levels.

The storm itself is now concentrating over western Quebec, keeping conditions windy in the northeastern U.S., said Marty Rausch, a weather forecaster with the Weather Prediction Center. It will start to rise Sunday into Monday and at that point the central and eastern parts of the country will start to warm up.

Cuts in power grid orders in eastern US amid system-wide emergency

The storm, which meteorologists dubbed a once-in-a-decade phenomenon because of its size and speed, left more than 200 million Americans — about 60% of the country — under some form of winter weather warning or advice as of Friday. It achieved “bomb cyclone” status as it swept east.

The storm also caused “significant disruption” at FedEx Express hubs in Memphis and Indianapolis, potentially delaying the arrival of holiday packages until Christmas, the shipping company said in a statement.

—Assisted by Gabriela Mello, Mark Chediak, Joe Ryan and Gerson Freitas Jr..

(Updates with details, predictions and numbers throughout.)

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