SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (AP) — A powerful winter storm left nearly 2 million homes and businesses without power in the United States on Saturday, leaving millions more to worry about how the prospect of more outages will affect vacation and travel plans.
Blinding blizzards, freezing rain and freezing cold that gripped much of the country knocked out power to about 1.7 million homes and businesses, while a major power grid operator warned 65 million people in the eastern US that they may need permanent power outages.
Across the country, officials attributed at least 10 deaths to exposure, storm damage and vehicle accidents on icy and snowy roads.
Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection said power plants are struggling to operate in the freezing weather and asked residents in 13 states to refrain from using electricity unnecessarily. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to 10 million people in Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states, ordered local utilities on Saturday to implement planned outages to “ensure the reliability of the power system.”
In six New England states, nearly 400,000 customers were without power Saturday morning, and some utilities warned it could be days before power is restored. In North Carolina, more than 415,000 customers were without power, according to poweroutage.us.
PJM Interconnection’s emergency call for system-wide savings advised residents to set thermostats lower than normal, delay the use of major appliances such as stoves and dishwashers, and turn off non-essential lights. Commercial and industrial energy users have also been asked to cut back. Utility officials said that the simultaneous increase in demand for the electrical system was due to the fact that some power plants are experiencing difficulties in operating in severe frost. They warned about the current blackout.
“It won’t be long, we’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but it’s a real possibility,” said Mike Bryson, PJM’s senior vice president of operations. It covers all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, DC.
The storm forced highway closures across the country, and at least 10 people were killed in crashes, impacts and damage from the storm, officials said.
Four people have died in a massive pileup involving about 50 vehicles on an Ohio highway. A driver in Kansas City, Missouri, died Thursday after sliding into a creek, and three others died Wednesday in separate crashes on icy roads in northern Kansas.
A Vermont woman died in a hospital Friday after strong winds snapped a tree and fell on her home. Police in Colorado Springs say they have found the dead body of a man who appeared to be homeless as freezing temperatures and snow hit the region.
Adding to the woes were power outages that still affected more than 1.7 million homes and businesses as of early Saturday, according to PowerOutage, a website that tracks utility reports.
The storm was almost unprecedented in its scale, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border. About 60 percent of the U.S. population was under some kind of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures dropped sharply below normal from the Rocky Mountains east to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.
Freezing rain covered much of the Pacific Northwest in a sheet of ice, while people in the Northeast faced the threat of flooding in coastal and inland areas.
Cold temperatures and gusty winds are expected to bring “dangerously cold winds across much of the central and eastern United States this holiday weekend,” the weather service said, adding that the conditions “create a potentially life-threatening stranding for travelers.”
“In some areas, exposure to the outdoors can result in frostbite within minutes,” it said.
As millions of Americans traveled on Christmas Eve, more than 5,700 flights to, from and out of the US were canceled on Friday, according to tracking website FlightAware. While in Mexico, migrants settled near the US border in unseasonably cold temperatures as they awaited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on pandemic-era restrictions that are preventing many from seeking shelter.
Forecasters said a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly during a severe storm — occurred near the Great Lakes, stirring up a blizzard that included high winds and snow.
Even people in Florida were ready for unusually cold weather as rare frost warnings were issued for much of the state over the holiday weekend.
South Dakota Gov. Christy Noem said she is deploying the National Guard to deliver wood to the Oglala and Rosebud Sioux tribes and help with snow removal.
“We have families we haven’t heard from in two weeks,” said Wayne Boyd, chief of staff to President Rosebud Sioux.
New York Governor Cathy Hatchul declared a state of emergency, calling it a “kitchen sink storm.” Flooding flooded roads, homes and businesses in parts of New York on Friday morning.
Associated Press reporter Mark Levy in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this report.