Much of the US has been gripped by a deep freeze as a huge winter storm brews in the Midwest, leaving two-thirds of the nation under extreme weather alerts.
Thousands of flights have been cancelled and homeless shelters are overflowing due to the plummeting temperatures and storms, resulting in one of the most treacherous holiday travel seasons the US has seen in decades.
Some regions have seen temperatures drop 10C within a matter of hours as forecasters warned of an impending “bomb cyclone” that could make conditions even worse before Christmas.
Temperatures across central states have plunged, with the mercury dipping to -25F (-31C) in Montana.
Places like Des Moines, Iowa, will feel like -38C making it possible to suffer frostbite in less than five minutes.
The frigid air has moved through the central US to the east, with windchill advisories impacting around 135 million people over the coming days, weather service meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said.
“This is not like a snow day when you were a kid,” President Joe Biden warned on Thursday in the Oval Office following a briefing from federal officials. “This is serious stuff.”
Forecasters predicted a bomb cyclone – when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm – would develop Thursday overnight near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.
More than 2,200 flights in and out of US airports have been cancelled and 114 million people are under weather alerts as heavy snow and life-threatening wind chills spark holiday travel chaos.
US authorities have also expressed concern about the potential for power failures – warning people to take precautions to protect older and homeless people as well as livestock, and to postpone travel if possible. Some energy companies have urged customers to turn down their thermostats to conserve energy.