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Sub-zero temperatures are expected to grip the city for the next couple of days with wind chill temperature dipping as low as -40 degrees. Image Credit: Getty Images via AFP

Chicago: A monstrous once-in-a-decade winter storm is battering a huge swath of the central US with snow and frigid temperatures, making a mess of highways and canceling flights as the holiday travel season peaks.

Blinding snow squalls and dangerous cold have gripped the region as an estimated 112.7 million people are set to travel at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) through January 2, according to AAA. The low Thursday night in Chicago is forecast to be -6F (-21C). Buffalo could get up to 3 feet (1 meter) of snow.

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Yet the Arctic front, expected to continue for the remainder of the week, is perhaps most remarkable for its sheer size. Snow, blizzard, freezes and flood warnings and advisories stretch from Washington state to Maine and down to the Gulf of Mexico. Frigid temperatures reach as far south as Texas, with Dallas forecast to drop to 11F Thursday night.

“It is a really impressive system,” said Ashton Robinson Cook, a forecaster at the US Weather Prediction Center. “It is something that happens only every one or two decades.”

As of early Thursday, more than 1,200 flights into and around the US had been canceled, with the majority of those in Chicago and Denver, according to airline tracking service FlightAware. Several airlines have waved fees for those looking to rebook.

Cold records

While New York and other East Coast cities won’t have to contend with snow, high winds coupled with a new moon “- which affects tides “- raises the risk of coastal flooding from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Maine.

The cold had pushed across the Plains into the Midwest and Texas, and was likely to set nearly 80 records mostly for low daily maximum temperatures across the country, said Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center. Some places could see the mercury hit minus 65F (minus 54C), which can kill exposed people and livestock.

In Texas, where the state’s electric grid was battered by cold early last year, the chill should peak from late Thursday to Saturday and start to moderate early next week, said Chenard. For many places the snow from the storm won’t be that extreme, but high winds will be a problem, he said.

In Chicago, only 4 to 6 inches of snow is forecast, but it will be driven by gusts up to 50 miles per hour that will cut visibility and bring chilly conditions. New York will mainly see rain starting later Thursday.

Friday night readings will drop to 15F in New York’s Central Park. Wind advisories and warnings reach from northern New Jersey to northern Maine and there’s risk of moderate coastal flooding from Virginia and throughout New England.