What officials have dubbed the “blizzard of the century” – a massive winter storm, bringing heavy snow and plummeting temperatures – has ravaged the US in recent days. The freezing conditions caused disruption across a number of states, but the area around Buffalo in western New York was hit particularly hard: at least 28 people are thought to have died in this region alone, and that toll rises to at least 49 when taking the country as a whole.
Weather warnings were issued in almost every US state in the run-up to Christmas, with dangerous conditions forecast even for Florida and areas near the border with Mexico. The lowest temperatures were recorded in the state of Montana, but it was neighboring Canada that took the worst of the storm, particularly the northeastern provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Residents in the state of Texas were particularly concerned when temperatures were predicted to drop into single figures, after the catastrophic power outages that accompanied a bout of extreme weather in 2021 – thankfully, the power grid appears to have held up this time around.
Nestled on the Eastern seaboard, New York state sees average December lows of around 0°C (32°F). Over the weekend, however, forecasters were warning that the windchill could make it feel as cold as -21°C (-5°F).
Up to 1.1 meters (43 inches) of snow was recorded in the city of Buffalo, leaving people trapped in their homes and some stranded on the roads. While the residents here are used to dealing with adverse conditions, this current storm has been so out of the ordinary that President Biden has now approved an emergency declaration for the state, and offered federal assistance to support local relief efforts.
Blizzard conditions were recorded for 37.5 hours, and "That just doesn’t happen,” said CNN meteorologist Tom Sater.
The once-in-a-generation weather event is linked to the phenomenon of “bomb cyclones”, rapid decreases in atmospheric pressure resulting from an interaction between jet streams of warm and cold air. The drop in pressure leads to a precipitous drop in temperatures – on Friday, in some parts of the US, thermometers were reading more than 16.5°C (30°F) lower than the previous day.
Coming at the same time many Americans typically travel to be with loved ones over the Christmas period, the storm caused huge disruption, with thousands of canceled or delayed flights plus near white-out conditions making driving impossible.
It will come as a relief to many that the cold snap is now reportedly coming to an end; however, rapid warming brings with it its own set of problems, as melting snow could cause localized flooding in some areas.