Heavy snow and howling winds ground flights, close highways and cause misery for Christmas travellers.

A wild winter storm continued to envelop much of the United States on Saturday, bringing blinding blizzards, freezing rain, flooding and life-threatening cold that created mayhem for those travelling for the upcoming Christmas holiday.

The storm that arrived earlier in the week downed power lines, littered highways with piles of cars in deadly accidents and led to airline cancellations topping 5,700 US flights on Friday.

The flight cancellations followed nearly 2,700 cancelled flights on Thursday, while just more than 1,000 flights have already been cancelled for Saturday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

Heavy snow and howling winds have taken hold of much of the nation, including normally temperate southern states.

More than 200 million Americans were under weather warnings, as wind chills sent temperatures down as low as minus 48 Celsius (minus 55 Fahrenheit), according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

More than a million US power customers were in the dark on Friday as the winter storm walloped the country.

The storm was nearly unprecedented in its scope, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico.

Freezing rain coated much of the Pacific Northwest in a layer of ice, while people in the Northeast faced the threat of coastal and inland flooding.

Highways in the Midwest faced lengthy delays due to snowy weather or crashes and authorities in parts of Indiana, Michigan, New York and Ohio urged motorists to avoid nonessential travel.

Passenger railroad Amtrak has cancelled dozens of trains through Christmas, disrupting holiday travel for thousands.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed ground stops or delays for de-icing at a number of US airports because of winter weather.

‘Enormous strain’

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the CNN media network the US aviation system “is operating under enormous strain” with two different storms and high winds affecting airports around the country. About 10 percent of US flights were cancelled on Thursday, Buttigieg said.

Another 10,400 US flights were delayed on Friday – including more than 40 percent of those operated by American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines – in addition to the 11,300 flights that were delayed on Thursday.

Southwest cancelled 1,238 flights on Friday, 29 percent of all its scheduled flights, while Alaska Airlines cancelled 507, or 64 percent, of its flights.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had 357 flights, or 63 percent of departures, cancelled on Friday. The FAA lifted a ground stop there due to snow and ice but late Friday delays were still averaging nearly three hours.

Nearly half of departing flights at Detroit Metro were cancelled, along with 70 percent at Portland, 38 percent at New York’s LaGuardia, 29 percent at Chicago O’Hare and 27 percent at Boston.

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By nmybx

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