A brutal winter storm that trapped drivers on icy roads, left hundreds of thousands of homes, grounded planes and closed schools across much of the country was to slam into California on Thursday.
“We’ve had a very busy week!” tweeted the National Weather Service bureau in San Diego.
For the first time since 1989, the weather service issued a storm warning for the Southern California mountains that runs through Saturday. Some coastal areas could see 10-foot (3-meter) waves – and a few at up to 14 feet (4.3 meters) – through Thursday, forecasters said.
“Nearly the entire population of CA will be able to see snow from some vantage point later this week if they look in the right direction (ie, toward the highest hills in the neighborhood),” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted Wednesday.
The storm, one in a series expected to pummel the country during the week, caused chaos from coast to coast. At one point Wednesday, more than 65 million people in more than two dozen states were under weather warnings.
The winter mix hit the northern US hard, closing schools, offices, even shutting down the Minnesota Legislature. About 90 churches in western Michigan canceled Ash Wednesday services, WZZM-TV reported.
In Wyoming, the state Department of Transportation announced on social media that roads across much of the southern part of the state were impassable.
Rescuers tried to find people trapped in vehicles but high winds and blowing snow made it “an almost impossible situation” for them, said Sgt. Jeremy Beck of the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
“They know which locations they have, it’s hard for them to find them,” he said.
In the Pacific Northwest, high winds and heavy snow in the Cascade Mountains prevented search crews from finding the bodies of three climbers killed in a landslide on Washington’s Colchuck Peak over the weekend.
Unexpectedly heavy snow during the rush hour sent dozens of cars spinning out in Portland, Oregon, causing traffic jams at times. The regional bus service offered free trips to homeless warming shelters.
In Arizona, about 180 miles (289 kilometers) of Interstate 40 were closed and state police in New Mexico closed ramps in Gallup, just across the Arizona line.
The National Weather Service warned that there could be blinding, wind-blown snow, especially Thursday afternoon and night when up to half an inch (1.2 centimeters) per hour could fall.
In California, a blizzard warning was in effect until Saturday for higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada, where forecasters said conditions could include several feet of snow blown by 60-mph (96-kph) gusts and wind chill could drop the temperature to minus 40. degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 Celsius).
In Sacramento, the state capital, the weather service said it had received reports of what could be hail or hail – soft, wet snowflakes covered in supercooled water droplets.
Electric grids took a beating as ice jammed utility lines in the North and gusty winds knocked down lines or overthrew them with tree branches and other debris in California.
A half-inch of ice covering a wire “is like having a grand piano on that single wire range, so the weight is significant,” said Matt Paul, executive vice president of distribution operations for DTE Electric based in Detroit.
More than 579,000 customers were without power in Michigan, well over 117,000 in Illinois and about 45,000 in California as of Wednesday night, according to the website PowerOutage.us.
The weather also contributed to nearly 1,800 flight cancellations in the US, according to tracking service FlightAware. An additional 6,000 flights were delayed across the country.
At Denver International Airport, Taylor Dotson, her husband, Reggie, and their 4-year-old daughter, Raegan, faced a two-hour flight delay to Nashville on their way home to Belvidere, Tennessee.
Reggie Dotson was in Denver to interview for a job as an airline pilot.
“I think it’s funny that we’ve had these kinds of delays when that’s what he’s looking at now as a career,” Taylor Dotson said.
Few places were untouched by the wild weather, including some at the other extreme: long-time highs were broken in cities in the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
Nashville ended Wednesday at 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.67 degrees Celsius), breaking a 127-year record for the date, according to the weather service.
Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Lexington, Kentucky and Mobile, Alabama were among many other record-setting events.
No warmup was predicted this week, however, in the northern US More than 18 inches (46 centimeters) could pile up in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the National Weather Service said Wednesday afternoon. According to the weather service, the largest snowfall event on record in the Twin Cities was 28.4 inches (72 centimeters) from October 31 to November 3, 1991.
Temperatures could drop as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius) on Thursday and to minus 25 F (minus 32 C) on Friday in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wind chills could drop to minus 50 F (minus 46 C), said Nathan Rick, a meteorologist in Grand Forks.
The storm will make its way towards the East Coast later this week. Areas that don’t get snow could see dangerous amounts of ice, forecasters warned.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. Sarah Brumfield in Wyoming, Eugene Johnson in Seattle, Corey Williams in Detroit, Thomas Peipert in Denver, Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, Utah, David Koenig in Dallas, John Antczak and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Ore. , Julie Walker in New York, Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, and Steve Karnowski in St. Paul, Minnesota, with this report.