Biden warns Americans to take ‘dangerous’ winter storm seriously

The president urges people to heed warnings of local authorities as snow and frigid temperatures move across the US ahead of Christmas.

A man clears snow from the road
A man clears snow off a sidewalk in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on December 22, 2022, as a winter storm brings freezing temperatures to large swathes of the US [Abbie Parr/AP Photo]

US President Joe Biden has urged Americans to exercise caution this holiday weekend as freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall are hitting large portions of the country.

Speaking from the White House on Thursday, Biden said that anyone planning to travel for the Christmas holiday should do so immediately because the massive winter storm could complicate travel and make it riskier.

“It’s dangerous and threatening,” the president said. “It’s really very serious weather. and it goes from Oklahoma all the way to Wyoming and Maine, … so I encourage everyone to please heed local warnings.”

Temperatures already have started to drop across the United States. The National Weather Service (NWS) reported that the central High Plains, a region that includes portions of Western and Midwestern states, plunged by about 10C (50F) in the span of several hours.

About 135 million people, or 40 percent of the US population, are under wind chill advisories.

Other parts of the country, such as the Great Lakes region, are facing intense wind and blizzard conditions. A weather phenomenon known as a bomb cyclone is expected to develop due to “the abrupt deepening of this low pressure system”, the NWS said.

The East Coast also is predicted to receive about 5cm (2 inches) of rain and a flash freeze while frigid cold and fierce winds of up to 100 kilometres per hour (60 miles per hour) are expected as far south as the US border with Mexico.

The storm poses a special risk for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those living without shelter.

In the southern Texas city of El Paso and across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, migrants and refugees hoping to seek asylum in the US have been sleeping outside or trying to find beds in shelters.

Some shelters in the Detroit area already were at capacity. The Detroit News reported that the 140 beds at COTS, a family-only shelter in the city, were full. The facility is hoping to make room for others, though, spokesperson Aisha Morrell-Ferguson told the newspaper on Wednesday.

“We are not sending anyone back into this cold,” Morrell-Ferguson said. “It does not matter if we have to pull out air mattresses. We are doing everything we can, looking at alternative spaces to support the needs that may arise.”

In South Dakota, Rosebud Sioux Tribe emergency manager Robert Oliver said tribal authorities have been working to clear roads to deliver propane and fire wood to homes, but face a relentless wind that has created drifts over 3m (10 feet) in some places.

“This weather and the amount of equipment we have – we don’t have enough,” Oliver said.

The bad weather is coinciding with what is typically one of the busiest periods of travel in the US. Millions of people are flying, driving and taking other means of transportation to visit friends and family over the Christmas weekend.

The American Automobile Association predicted that nearly 113 million people would travel at least 80km (50 miles) from their homes for the holidays, and six percent are expected to travel by air.

More than 1,830 US flights had been cancelled Thursday and another 900 flights for Friday were scrapped, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.

Authorities have expressed concern about the possibility of power failures and have said people should reconsider travel plans if possible.

“This event could be life-threatening if you are stranded with wind chills in the 30 below to 45 below zero range,” according to an online post by the National Weather Service in Minnesota, where transportation and patrol officials reported dozens of crashes and vehicles off the road.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies