Motorists stranded on roads turned into ice rinks and snow boxes, rescue teams blinded by blizzards, power outages and air travel chaos. The ravages of the polar front that has been crossing the United States since Thursday have not abated despite the passage of the historic storm, as defined by the National Weather Service (NWS, in its English acronym). The number of fatalities in incidents caused by inclement weather is approaching half a hundred nationwide, half of them in the Buffalo region of western New York State alone, which appears to have become the zero kilometer of this white drama It is the worst winter storm in the region, bordering Canada, since the extreme cold in 1977 claimed nearly 30 lives.
Some died buried while removing mountains of snow from the entrances to their homes or businesses, which in the Buffalo area reached two meters in height on Christmas Eve; others, blocked by the snowfall inside their homes or their cars, waiting in vain for the arrival of civil protection teams. The death toll is expected to rise in the coming hours or even days, with new bodies discovered as mountains of snow and ice are removed. After the initial distribution of blankets on the most affected roads in the central area of the country, on the eve of the Christmas weekend, the work of the rescue teams became on Sunday in the States of New York and to a lesser extent Massachusetts in a desperate attempt to find survivors. Hundreds of members of the National Guard, the body that is usually deployed in natural disasters, have joined the local and state fire and police teams.
Although the cold will continue throughout the week, the NWS reported on Christmas Day that the arctic front “which has engulfed much of the eastern half of the US” will slowly recede. The rescue work, as well as the attempt to repair buildings and recover buried cars, continue this Monday, with temperatures still below zero. In Buffalo, in the extreme northwest of the state, gusts of 60-kilometer-per-hour hurricane winds mixed with snow caused a thick white storm, with zero visibility, that paralyzed the response of emergency teams for hours, with all the trucks firefighters in the town, with almost 280,000 inhabitants, blocked on Saturday. This morning new snowfalls were expected, although more moderate: 30 to 60 centimeters, according to the NWS. At least 13,000 people were still without electricity, according to the portal poweroutage.us.
The return to normality will be slow. The city’s airport, which services the region’s top tourist destination, Niagara Falls, will remain closed until Tuesday morning; this Sunday it presented a concentration of more than a meter of snow. New York Governor Kathy Hochul recalled on Sunday the ban on driving in the region. Although this Monday is a holiday in the federal Administration, the White House is expected to announce the declaration of a catastrophic zone in the Buffalo region, which implies a line of economic aid for recovery.
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The cold wave, of such intensity that it only occurs once in a generation according to the NWS, has also highlighted the age of many infrastructures, such as interstate connections to the electrical network or the resistance of refineries to extreme conditions. Six of them, including some of the most important in the country, had to temporarily interrupt activity on Friday, according to the Oil Price Information Service, while thousands of houses were still without electricity on Monday in the zero zone of the storm The country’s main electricity company asked its subscribers on Saturday by text message to reduce the thermostat as much as possible to conserve energy and avoid using electric stoves and other high-consumption appliances in order to guarantee smooth operation of the network in the face of “the natural gas shortage”; the advice received by the users was, specifically, “reduce the temperature to the maximum within acceptable minimum heat”. President Joe Biden’s insistence on modernizing the country’s obsolete infrastructure, which has promoted one of his flagship projects, the Infrastructure Law, makes special sense in cases like this, which underscore the vulnerability of the US. The magnitude of the disaster is also surprising. in a country with harsh winters, accustomed to and usually well prepared to face the season.
The extreme weather conditions covered practically half the map of the United States, from the Great Lakes, near Canada, to the Rio Grande, along the border with Mexico, where hundreds of migrants are concentrated in sub-zero temperatures. Around 60% of the US population has been subjected to some kind of warning or in a state of emergency due to the cold since last Thursday, with drastic drops in temperature, well below normal on these dates, from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians. In New York City, where it did not snow but gusts of wind blew, the thermometer registered a sharp drop of 10 degrees in just 24 hours between early Friday and Saturday. The most striking thing was the difference between the maximum and minimum temperatures registered during Friday, almost 30 degrees. The main damage registered in the Big Apple and its suburbs was the flooding of numerous riverside areas due to torrential rains on Thursday.
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