Heavy snowfall, strong winds, and dangerously cold temperatures will be felt across the country, including the West. Here’s how to prepare.

A Fierce ‘Bomb Cyclone’ Storm Brings Dangerous Conditions and Holiday Travel Cancellations

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Aircraft covered with snow after a snow storm

According to the National Weather Service, a powerful winter storm known as a “bomb cyclone” will produce a multitude of weather hazards across the country through the end of the week. The frigid Arctic storm named Winter Storm Elliott is anticipated to throw a wrench into many Americans’ travel plans for the upcoming Christmas holiday, with the FAA anticipating it will impact thousands of flights within the coming days. Whether you are planning to travel by plane or by car over the Christmas weekend, you could face delays, cancellations, and treacherous conditions. Needless to say, it’s a bit more of a “White Christmas” than Bing Crosby bargained for.

The fiercely cold storm system, which originated in Siberia, was looming over British Columbia and Alberta last night, and is now making its way on to Colorado. There will be significant freezing rain possible across parts of western Oregon and Washington beginning Thursday night, and temperatures of 70 below zero (factoring in wind chill) may hit parts of Wyoming before the storm moves onto the Midwest and Eastern United States, where it will further intensify. Not only is this treacherous for travelers during an already stressful season, but it has the potential to be devastating for ranchers and farmers as well. Livestock interests could be severely impacted, especially if power outages occur.

Wind chill warnings have been issued in the Intermountain West, with temperatures anticipated to be as low as minus 40 degrees across the region, with more localized areas of minus 50 to minus 70 possible through the end of the week. It’s worth noting that wind chills of this magnitude can cause frostbite in less than 5 minutes, with hypothermia and death being real threats.

According to FlightAware, nearly one in five flights out of the Seattle/Tacoma airport were cancelled on Tuesday. United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska, Spirit, and Southwest have all offered various forms of weather waivers for the regions where they operate, so be sure to check if your carrier is allowing passengers to make alterations to itineraries. Of course, if you are going to utilize these waivers and change your travel plans to either depart before the storm hits your destination or cancel altogether, it’s best to do so sooner rather than later. With holiday travel returning to pre-pandemic levels, there are undoubtedly plenty of people who will have the same idea, and availability is limited.

“Download your airline’s app and opt in for flight notifications so that you can be among the first to know in case your plans are starting to unravel. FlightAware is another great app for tracking flights that might have more up-to-date information than airport customer service representatives,” says Director of Travel Content at The Points Guy Eric Rosen.

“If you’re at the airport and your flight looks like it will be delayed or canceled, head to the customer service desk as soon as possible to beat the crowd; at the same time, reach out to the airline via Twitter and even try calling to see which form of customer service you can get through to quickest,” Rosen adds. “If you have access to an airline lounge, the agents in there might also be able to help you make changes faster than those out in the terminal.”

No matter what you decide to do, stay safe out there, fellow travelers.

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