Death toll rises to at least 55 as freezing temperatures and heavy snow wallop swaths of U.S.
“The life-threatening cold temperatures and in combination with dangerous wind chills will create a potentially life-threatening hazard for travelers,” the National Weather Service warns.
A "once-in-a-lifetime” blizzard has killed at least 55 people in the United States, including 25 in western New York's Erie County, officials said Monday.
The number of deaths from the monstrous storm was expected to grow as snow continued to blanket Erie County, leaving roads in many areas impassable, including the majority of Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference.
"We can see sort of the light at the end of the tunnel, but this is not the end yet," Poloncarz said. "We are not there."
Snow was expected to fall in Erie County into Tuesday afternoon. Nationwide, temperatures plummeted, and huge snow drifts have trapped people inside their homes and snarled travel.
Stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border, the storm has killed at least 55 people as of Monday morning, according to an NBC News tally. The deaths were recorded in 12 states: Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
The medical examiner’s office in Erie County determined the 25 deaths there to be directly related to the blizzard, Poloncarz said.
The county executive said many died from heart problems while shoveling or snow blowing. Others were found dead inside their cars. At least one person in Niagara County died from carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.
At least 18 people died in Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown said Monday afternoon.
Some of those deaths are not included in Erie County’s official tally, Poloncarz said, adding that the county was working to confirm those.
The ferocity of the storm was unlike any the region has seen, Poloncarz said. The snow fell “with a vengeance," he said.
“It’s a generational storm," he said, and the county has yet to begin assessing the "full toll."
On Monday morning, a “band of heavy lake effect snow” in the Buffalo area was producing 2 to 3 inches of hourly snowfall, with accumulations reaching 6 to 12 inches and as much as 1 to 2 feet for Jefferson and northern Lewis counties, the National Weather Service said in its 6:43 a.m. bulletin.
“Lake effect” occurs when when cold air passes over the unfrozen and warmer lake water, causing moisture and warmth being transferring to the lower parts of the atmosphere. The air then rises to form clouds, resulting in intense snowfall.
"We know that the storm is coming back," New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday afternoon, calling the blizzard "one for the ages."
In Buffalo, blinding blizzards and freezing rain had at one point left more than 20,000 people without power, Brown said. By Monday afternoon, that figure dropped to less than 10,000.
Thousands of service crew had been deployed to deal with the emergency, which was probably “the largest mobilization of utility crews in the history of the state,” Hochul said.
Temperatures have plummeted below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians. More than 1,200 flights had been canceled by early Monday, with at least 500 delayed, according to the tracking website FlightAware, trapping holiday travelers in airports across the country.
The National Weather Service said “hazardous travel conditions” were expected to continue over the next few days and that they would slowly ease over the new year.
“Much of the eastern U.S. will remain in a deep freeze through Monday before a moderating trend sets in on Tuesday,” it said in a 2:56 a.m. bulletin.
“The life-threatening cold temperatures and in combination with dangerous wind chills will create a potentially life-threatening hazard for travelers that become stranded, individuals that work outside, livestock and domestic pets,” the National Weather Service said.
The western parts of the country were also bracing for an incoming storm, with forecasters warning of a “potent surge of moisture” into the Pacific northwestern and California on Tuesday, threatening flash floods.
In a tweet, the weather service said that cold and snow will become "distant memories" for Chicago as temperatures are expected to rise throughout the week, anticipating pouring rain.