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A man goes for a walk in front of the Minneapolis skyline at Bde Maka Ska Park during a snowstorm on 22 February 2023. Blizzards expected to dump up to two feet (60 centimeters) of snow swept across a vast band of the country from the West Coast to the Great Lakes, grounding flights and knocking out power to tens of thousands. (Photo by CRAIG LASSIG/AFP via Getty Images)

Winter Storm Threatens Power and Travel for Much of the United States

Winter storm Olive barreled down on large parts of the United States this week, threatening access to power and ability to travel for millions of residents.

The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) issued winter weather alerts Thursday morning for more than 60 million people in parts of the West, Midwest, and Northeast—heavily contrasting the unseasonably high temperatures that took hold in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and even parts of the Midwest. The Weather Channel estimated that the storm’s snowfall could range from Maine to Montana.

“Heavy snow already hit some of these areas over the past two days—including, as of early Thursday, more than 40 inches in parts of southern Wyoming; up to 32 inches in northwestern Montana; and generally 3-6 inches across Nebraska and the Dakotas,” CNN reported.

More than 900,000 customers were without power early Thursday, on top of the more than 850,000 homes and buildings in the Midwest already dealing with power losses, mostly in Michigan. As of publication time, estimated a total of 964,670 customers without power—with 769,666 in Michigan; 79,114 in Illinois; 55,126 in Wisconsin; 38,617 in California; and 22,147 in New York.

The snowstorm also forced hundreds of Midwest schools to close and grounded hundreds of flights, while worsening road conditions limited or altogether barred ground travel, according to Reuters.

More than 1,700 flights in the United States were cancelled by Wednesday, with regional carrier SkyWest grounding more than 400 flights, Delta more than 300, and Southwest almost 290.

“Meanwhile, more than 6,400 flights were delayed on Wednesday,” CNN reported. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United issued winter weather waivers this week for various airports and regions.

The NWS issued a hazardous travel warning for Thursday through Saturday, 25 February.

“Heavy snowfall rates of as much as 1 to 2 inches/hour are expected to combine with winds locally as high as 40 to 50 mph to drive significant impacts that will include major disruptions to travel, infrastructure, livestock, and recreation,” the NWS said.

“In Wyoming, rescuers tried to reach people stranded in vehicles but high winds and drifting snow created a ‘near-impossible situation’ for them, said Sgt. Jeremy Beck of the Wyoming Highway Patrol,” CBS News reported. It added that a “…more than 200-mile stretch of Interstate 40 from central Arizona to the New Mexico line closed due to snow, rain, and wind gusts of up to 80 mph.”

The Associated Press reported that in Portland Oregon, heavy snow impacted rush hour, sending “dozens of cars spinning out…and caused hours-long traffic jams. The regional bus service offered free rides to warming shelters for homeless individuals.”

Olive also initiated southern California’s first blizzard warning since 1989, with another winter storm expected to increase snowfall in the region at the end of the week.

“On Thursday and Friday, the heavy snowfall threat across the West should become more centered over California as a new storm system developing just off the West Coast drops south and begins to edge into the Southwest for the end of the week,” the NWS noted.

The agency estimated that snowfall could continue to accumulate in the Sierra Nevada, as well as parts of the Great Basin and the Four Corners.

“Onshore flow combined with instability related to the cold pool aloft will lead to a heightened risk of flash flooding across southern California Friday morning into Saturday,” the NWS said.

The storm had a wider reach thanks to enough cold air that was distributed by a strong jet stream.

“This will generate low pressure along the front, separating cold air from sharply warmer air over the Southeast. Moisture pulled northward will override the cold air, wringing out the snow, sleet, and freezing rain,” according to the Weather Channel.