Millions of people hunkered down in the freezing cold on Sunday to weather the winter storm that has killed at least 34 people in the United States.
The arctic blast is expected to claim more lives after trapping some residents in their homes in snowdrifts and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.
The storm’s scope is almost unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande River on the border with Mexico.
Weather problems for travelers are likely to continue, with hundreds of flights already canceled and more expected after a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops rapidly in a powerful storm — develops near the Great Lakes, triggering blizzard conditions, including high winds and heavy snow.
Some 1,707 domestic and international flights had been canceled as of about 2 p.m. ET Sunday, according to tracking site FlightAware.
Hurricane-force winds and snow blanketed Buffalo, paralyzing emergency response efforts.
The airport will remain closed until Tuesday morning, officials said. Snow totals at Buffalo Niagara International Airport were 43 inches (109 centimeters) at 7 a.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
In daylight, cars were nearly covered in six-foot snowdrifts and thousands of houses, some adorned with unlit holiday displays, were pitch black due to lack of power.
Forecasters warned that there could be another foot to two feet of snow in some areas by early Monday amid gusts of 40 mph as heavy snow spiraled over unspoiled and impassable streets.
On Friday, two people died at their homes in suburban Cheektowaga, New York, when first responders were unable to get to them in time to treat their conditions, and another died in Buffalo.
“Some were found in cars, some were found in snowdrifts on the street,” Mr Poloncarz said. “We know of people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days.”
In what Ms. Hochul described as the city’s longest-ever snowstorm, the cold weather and a day-long power outage had Buffaloians scrambling to get to wherever the heat was.
But the streets are covered in thick white, and that’s not an option for someone like Jeremy Manahan, who charges his phone in his parked car after nearly 29 hours without power.
“There was a warm shelter but that was too far for me. Obviously, I couldn’t drive because I was stuck,” Mr Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite.”
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on a Friday trip with his daughters to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ont., for Christmas when their SUV got stuck in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with their engines running, battered by wind and nearly buried in snow.
With their fuel nearly out at 4am on Saturday, Mr Ilunga made the desperate choice to brave the howling storm to seek shelter nearby. He carried Destiny, 6, on his back, while Cindy, 16, hugged their Pomeranian puppy as they drifted through his footprints.
“If I had stayed in this car, I would have died here with my children,” Mr Ilunga recalled. He cried as the family walked through the doors of the shelter. “It’s something I’ll never forget in my life.”
Just under 200,000 customers were without power as of 3 p.m. ET Sunday, down from a peak of 1.7 million, according to poweroutage.us.
Fears of rolling blackouts in eastern states faded Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utility could meet the day’s peak power demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator has called on its 65 million customers to save energy amid the bitter cold on Saturday.
Storm-related deaths have been reported across the country in recent days: 12 in Erie County, New York, ranging in age from 26 to 93, and a 27-year-old man in Niagara County from carbon monoxide His stove; 10 in Ohio, including a utility worker who was electrocuted and killed in multiple crashes; six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; one in Vermont A woman was struck by a falling tree branch; an apparently homeless man was found in sub-zero temperatures in Colorado; and a woman fell through the ice of a Wisconsin river.
In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials announced on Christmas that residents must now boil their drinking water after water lines burst in freezing temperatures, while in Tampa, Florida, thermometers dipped below freezing for the first time in nearly five years. According to the National Weather Service — a drop favoring a cold-blooded iguana falling from a tree.