(CNN) — Hundreds of thousands of Americans are waking up in the dark to unlit trees on Christmas Eve, after destructive winds and heavy snow from a winter storm tore down power lines and endangered drivers across the country, killing at least a dozen people in its path.
As bone-chilling temperatures continue to grip the US this holiday weekend, the unrelenting storm is pummeling the Midwest and parts of the East with heavy snow, blizzard conditions and even flooding along the Northeast coast. No letup is in sight until the end of Christmas Day.
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At least 12 people have died since Wednesday across four states, a result of how dangerous and life-threatening conditions have been this week over a large swath of the country.
Three people have died in weather-related car crashes in Kansas, the Kansas Highway Patrol told CNN on Friday.
In Kansas City, Missouri, one person died after their vehicle slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek, first responders in Kansas City Police Department said.
Four people died in car crashes in Ohio, where others also were injured, Gov. Mike DeWine said.
The Tennessee Department of Health on Friday confirmed one, storm-related fatality.
Kentucky reported three deaths caused by the storm: Two in car crashes and another was a person who was unhoused in Louisville, Gov. Andy Beshear said. The man’s body was found outside with no obvious signs of trauma — an autopsy is required to determine the cause of death, police said.
‘Your loved ones care more about having you alive’
For days, forecasters and officials have been sounding the alarm on the grim conditions the storm promised to bring, while imploring drivers to stay off the icy, snow-covered roads and other travelers to alter holiday plans for optimal safety.
“Remember your loved ones care more about having you alive and that next Christmas than whether you can make this one,” Beshear told CNN Friday.
“People need to stay off the roads. … Being together is more important than ever, but staying safe is even more important than that,” Beshear added.
The ominous warning comes as the storm continues to bear down with blizzard conditions from the Great Lakes and interior Northeast, bringing the double threat of heavy snow and speedy winds.
Hundreds of drivers across multiple states, including New York, South Dakota and Minnesota, were stranded this week and needed rescuing. Some states have closed major highways to deter drivers from getting behind the wheel. Plus, more than 5,000 flights were canceled Friday, and more than 10,000 were delayed.
To make matters worse, even if snowfall stops or slows, whiteout conditions are likely because winds are forecast to near or surpass 60 mph, resulting in damage and more power outages.
“If you do lose power, it is going to be dangerously cold,” said Jackie Bray, the commissioner of New York’s Homeland Security and Emergency Services, adding people should seek warming shelters provided by some counties. “Please don’t assume that you can weather this cold overnight without heat. You may not be able to.”
So far, hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses have no electricity, according to PowerOutage.US, which means millions of residents likely do not have proper heating or hot water as extremely cold temperatures persist Saturday.
New Hampshire, New York and Virginia each have more than 50,000 outages as of early Saturday, while more than 240,000 outages are reported in Maine, the website shows.
Here’s what else you can expect this Christmas Eve:
• The cold is coming for many: More than 175 million people are under wind chill alerts from across much of the central and eastern US. “The life-threatening Cold Temperatures and Dangerous wind chills will create a potentially life-threatening hazard for travelers that become stranded,” the National Weather Service said.
• Record temps in the South: Atlanta and Tallahassee, Florida, are forecast to have their coldest high temperature ever recorded on December 24, according to the weather service.
• Brutal cold elsewhere: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh will also see their coldest day Christmas Eve ever on Saturday. Washington, DC, could see its second-coldest on Christmas Eve, the first being in 1989. New York is set to experience its coldest Christmas Eve since 1906. Chicago is expecting temperatures to rebound above zero but will still experience its coldest Christmas Eve since 1983.
• Flooding threats persist: Both coastal and inland flooding risks are in store for the Northeast from heavy rain falling onto a melting snowpack. Moderate to isolated major coastal flooding is possible due to strong onshore winds.
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