White Christmas of the extreme kind: In the USA, snowstorms and limited visibility – the so-called whiteout – make travel impossible. Authorities already count 17 dead, while weather experts warn of a “bomb cyclone”.

Large parts of the USA are experiencing the coldest Christmas in decades. A winter storm not only brought heavy snowfalls and icy winds – but also temperatures of up to minus 40 degrees Celsius. In the east coast metropolis of New York, the thermometer showed minus 14 degrees in the morning local time, in Chicago it was minus 17.

The number of deaths rose to 17 on Saturday night, as reported by the NBC broadcaster, citing local authorities. In almost all cases, the cause is weather-related traffic accidents. Other broadcasters also reported a double-digit number of fatalities in connection with weather-related traffic accidents. According to the US weather service, the region around the five Great Lakes in the north-east of the country on the border with Canada was particularly hard hit. On Christmas Eve the storm shifted to the east of the country.

In the morning, more than 1.6 million households were temporarily without electricity, as the PowerOutage website showed. There were power outages, especially on the east coast. The Arctic cold front also messed up the Christmas plans of many travelers: According to the flight data website FlightAware, almost 6,000 flights were canceled on Friday and almost 2,000 on Saturday morning.

New York, with its approximately eight million inhabitants, experienced a rare drop in temperature on Friday: within just a few hours, the thermometer fell from plus 11 to minus 12 degrees. In the morning, the New Yorkers had gone with a light jacket and without gloves to do their last Christmas shopping. In the afternoon and evening, on the other hand, restaurants and bars remained unusually empty for the evening before the holidays, while many people preferred to snuggle up at home.

In Erie County, south of the Great Lakes in upstate New York, emergency services were at times overwhelmed. Marc Poloncarz, the person responsible for the district, called on Twitter to only call the emergency number in the “most critical, life-threatening cases” in order to keep the lines free. He urged residents to stay in their homes despite power and heating outages. Transport to emergency shelters is currently almost impossible. The US weather service called on travelers to exercise extreme caution on the Christmas weekend and warned of so-called whiteout conditions, i.e. severely restricted visibility and orientation due to the snow. Traveling under these conditions is “extremely dangerous and at times impossible,” it said.

There was also a warning about the low temperatures. In the state of Montana, minus 40 degrees Celsius were measured early on Saturday morning. It was said that even a few minutes in the cold could lead to frostbite.

A sports reporter from the local broadcaster KWWL achieved nationwide fame when he was unceremoniously assigned as a weather reporter for reporting from the freezing cold of Iowa in the Midwest on Thursday. With each live switch, Mark Woodley grew more grumpy. When asked by the presenter how he was feeling outside, Woodley replied: “Same as eight minutes ago when you asked me that before”. Woodley used his gearshift throughout the morning to express his displeasure: “What better reason to ask the sportscaster to come five hours earlier than he would normally wake up, faced with the wind, the snow and the cold and tell other people not to do the same?” Up to this day he didn’t even know that there was also a 3:30 in the morning.

Before the Christmas weekend, more than 200 million people had received severe weather warnings because of the storm “Elliott”. “Mother Nature is demanding everything she has to offer this weekend,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. US media, citing weather experts, warned of the possible emergence of a special and severe storm, a so-called “bomb cyclone” – a weather phenomenon in which the air pressure drops extremely within a short time and increases the force of the storm.

Temperatures of minus 45 degrees Celsius had already been measured on the day before Christmas in the states of Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming. According to meteorologists, temperatures in Denver, Colorado, fell by around 40 degrees within 24 hours as the Arctic cold front passed through.