At Least 62 Dead in 'Blizzard of the Century'

Over the Christmas weekend, the "blizzard of the century" left at least 62 people dead, with half of those deaths located in Erie County, NY.

Key takeaways:
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    Over the Christmas weekend, the "blizzard of the century" left at least 62 people across the United States dead.
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    More than half of the storm's deaths occur in Erie County, which includes Buffalo, New York, the state's second-largest city.
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    The nationwide winter storms caused widespread power outages, travel delays, water boil advisories, and deaths in nine states.
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    This week's warmer temperatures are expected to improve local conditions and rescue efforts.

New York’s second-largest city, Buffalo, was the hardest-hit city in the country, with more than half of the storm’s deaths located in Erie County.

The NY region received a record amount of almost four feet of snow in 37 hours of “blizzard conditions” which included high winds, heavy snow, and low visibility on roads. The area also experienced frigid temperatures—the high on Christmas Eve was only 13 degrees.

New York State authorities have talked about the terrible conditions, such as whiteouts that lasted for hours, bodies found in cars and behind snow banks, and rescue workers going "car to car" to look for survivors.

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said that more than 400 EMS calls went unanswered. The storm became so severe that some first responders needed rescuing as well.

“This is the worst storm probably in our lifetime and maybe in the history of the city,” Erie County Chief Executive Mark Poloncarz said Monday at a press conference.

Monday, President Biden declared a state of emergency in New York. The Biden administration ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief efforts with state and local officials.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said Monday, Certainly, it is the blizzard of the century. [It is] way too early to say this is at its completion.

On Tuesday, the military enforced driving bans across New York. Limited bus routes are still being evaluated in Buffalo.

The Christmas weekend extreme weather sent wind chill temperatures in all 48 contiguous U.S. states to below freezing. Nearly a dozen states were warned of blizzard conditions, including Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and New York.

Officials say the nationwide winter storms caused widespread power outages, travel delays, and deaths in nine states. A total of almost 15,000 domestic flights were canceled as a result of the blizzards, the majority of them operated by Southwest Airlines. According to flight tracking website FlightAware, more than 90% of Wednesday's U.S. flight cancellations were Southwest flights.

According to the outage tracking site, at least 1.5 million customers were without power nationwide at the height of the storm. Thousands across the country are still without power. However, many of the outages are planned. PJM Interconnection, which serves all or parts of 13 states and Washington, D.C., warned that rolling blackouts might be needed. People have been urged to conserve power as boosted heating demands force power plants to trip offline.

The Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, declared a state of emergency amid a water boil advisory on Christmas Day. Officials warned that the city's water system, which had partially broken down at the end of August 2022, had fluctuating pressure levels due to freezing temperatures.

Reports show that many other cities across the South, including Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta, and Charleston, South Carolina, are experiencing water issues after winter storms and frigid temperatures.

According to the National Weather Service, warmer temperatures are expected across the country over the next few days. However, “locally hazardous travel conditions” are expected to persist.

Local Buffalo reports from WBIV say, “We will see the snow fade out and temperatures will begin to warm up, even overnight into Wednesday. The remainder of the week is expected to remain above freezing, which will encourage melting.”

Officials say rising temperatures should help rescue efforts as National Guard members and other teams continue to find any remaining people trapped due to the historic storm. As rescuers search for survivors, experts encourage people to keep homes as warm as possible and to avoid travel when possible.

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