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USA: Impacts of central United States winter storm on Australian travellers

USA: Impacts of central United States winter storm on Australian travellers

As a massive winter storm hits the central United States, causing flight cancellations and disrupting travel plans, Australian travellers may also be affected. According to American Automobile Association (AAA), an estimated 112.7 million people are set to travel at least 80 kilometres from December 24 to January 2. The storm and extreme cold have prompted warnings from the White House, with President Joe Biden urging travellers to leave now if they have plans.

Flight Disruptions

As of Saturday, over 4000 flights have been cancelled in the US, with most of Thursday’s cancellations occurring in Chicago and Denver. As the storm moves east, travel disruptions are expected to affect New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where 191 Friday (23 December 2022) flights have already been cancelled. Several airlines are offering waived fees for travellers looking to rebook. Amtrak has also cancelled some trains in the Midwest and northern New England.

Extensive Coverage

The arctic front is expected to continue through the week, covering a vast area from Washington state in the northwest to Maine in the northeast and down south to the Gulf of Mexico. Snow, blizzard, freeze, and flood warnings and advisories have been issued, and frigid temperatures are expected as far south as Texas. Chicago is forecast to have a low of -21C on Thursday night, with up to 18 cm of snow and wind gusts of up to 72 km/h. Buffalo could receive up to 92 cm of snow, and New York will mainly see rain starting later on Thursday, with Friday night readings in Central Park dropping to below 10C.

a seat in an airplane
American Airlines 787 First Class

Impacts on Canada

Extreme cold warnings have also been issued for western Canada, and winter storm warnings across Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, is expected to see a flash freeze, high winds, and up to 15 cm of snow by Saturday morning. The lowest recorded temperature in the 48 contiguous US states on Thursday was -45C in Montana, while Canada’s coldest temperature was -53C in Rabbit Kettle, Northwest Territories.

Coastal Flooding Risk

While East Coast cities such as New York are not expected to receive significant amounts of snow, high winds combined with a new moon could lead to coastal flooding from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Maine. Breakers as high as 5 metres could hit the Long Island shoreline, and tides could rise 1 metre above normal high marks. Wind advisories and warnings have been issued from northern New Jersey to northern Maine, and there is a risk of moderate coastal flooding in Virginia and throughout New England.

Other Impacts

The extreme cold is also expected to set nearly 80 records, principally for low daily maximum temperatures, across the US, according to the Weather Prediction Centre. Some areas may see windchills that can harm exposed people and livestock. Rolling blackouts have been implemented to conserve energy in Texas, where the state’s electric grid was severely impacted by a winter storm last February.

a truck and plane on the ground

2PAXfly Takeout

This is another timely reminder to wear your seatbelt when seated. Holding you close to your seat will protect you from the sort of injuries sustained on this flight, when unsecured passengers flew to the ceiling of the aircraft, and then came crashing down once the ‘drop’ ceased.

The hope will be that this is an anomaly – a ‘freak accident’ in casual parlance. If it is a systemic error either mechanical or electronic, then this is a larger concern for the airlines that fly Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft. Let’s hope it isn’t. If it is, it will pile on the woes to Boeing’s existing stack.

Did I just hear someone say ‘Climate change’?

It looks like you need to be on your thermally clad toes if travelling to the USA over the Christmas and New Year period. Weather, which is totally out of the airlines’ control, may contribute to delays and cancellations. I advise checking everything several times, listening to weather reports, and expecting changes and inconveniences. Take a deep breath and be nice to the airline, airport, or any transport-related staff. Oh, and stay safe and warm.

This story was written with the assistance of ChatGPT. Images are © Stephen Schuetz.

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