Forecasters are warning that holiday travel will be treacherous and deadly cold for much of the country as arctic air masses move into the already-frigid southern United States.
“We’re facing well below normal, potentially low temperatures heading into the Christmas holidays,” said Zach Taylor, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
The polar wind comes as a previous storm system slowly retreats over the northeastern US after burying parts of the region under two feet of snow. According to Poweroutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide, more than 80,000 New England customers were without power as of Sunday morning.
The approaching Arctic front “brings extreme and prolonged cold conditions to southern Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana,” the National Weather Service said in a special weather statement Sunday.
By Thursday night, temperatures will drop below 50 degrees in Jackson, Mississippi, and as low as 5 degrees in Nashville, Tennessee, the National Weather Service forecast.
For much of the US, the winter weather will get worse before it gets better.
Next week could record “the coldest wind of the season” as a strong Arctic front moves across the eastern two-thirds of the country in the days ahead, according to the latest forecast from the Federal Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. for Christmas.
The center warned of “a widespread spread of freezing temperatures from the northern Rockies and northern Plains into the Midwest by mid-week, then into the Gulf Coast and eastern US on Friday and through the end of the week”.
In Atlanta, where temperatures will drop below freezing Monday morning, forecasters are warning of wind chill later in the week, according to the National Weather Service office in Peachtree City, Georgia. Friday night’s low in Atlanta will be around 13 degrees and Saturday’s high will be about 29 degrees below freezing, according to the weather service forecast.
Freezing temperatures can cost a life in an instant, a harsh reality Atlanta homelessness advocate George Chidi knows firsthand.
Earlier this year he went to see a woman with serious mental health problems in downtown Atlanta, only to find that she had died hours earlier of suspected hypothermia. His body was found outside a 24-hour Greyhound bus station in downtown Atlanta.
“He died within 100 feet of three heated buildings,” Chidi explained.
He said homeless people who die in cold weather often do so because they are struggling with alcohol, drugs or a serious mental illness, or they don’t trust others and find themselves on the streets instead of sheltering others. Huh.
Homeless people in southern states are also sensitive to their weather patterns, making it nice one week and bitterly cold the next.
“One of the main factors is not the temperature itself,” says Chidi. “It’s the speed with which the temperature drops.”
Florida won’t have a white Christmas, but forecasters expect an unusually cold weekend across the state.
North Florida cities such as Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola forecast lows of 20 degrees on Christmas Eve, while highs are in the 40s. Orlando and Tampa won’t get above 50 degrees on Christmas Eve, and even Miami won’t get above 50 degrees.
In the Northeast, utility companies bring in workers from other states, but are hampered by slippery roads and dangerous conditions.
“This has been an intense and wet snowstorm, which has affected both displacement and infrastructure,” explained Frank Pereira, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
New England police responded to hundreds of accidents or vehicles that strayed off the road over the weekend. Maine State Police said Saturday night that they have responded to more than 180 accidents since Friday night. There were only minor injuries.
Vermont officials said they are looking for locations in hard-hit areas for potential warming centers, should they be needed. State officials warned Saturday that some customers’ power might not be restored for two or three days.
“There were some people who came over last night who couldn’t cook for themselves, so we made sure we had room for them,” Beckett Graeley, host at the Waterhouse restaurant in Peterborough, New Hampshire, said Sunday. “Even today we had some people come to watch the final game of the World Cup because their TVs were not working.”