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Wild winter weather brings drastic temperature drops within minutes across the U.S.

Travelers arrive for flights at the  O'Hare International Airport, in Chicago, on December 16.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Travelers arrive for flights at the O'Hare International Airport, in Chicago, on December 16.

Dangerous winter weather conditions across the country will add extra challenges to an already-stressful season as millions of Americans travel for the holidays this week, the National Weather Service warned Wednesday.

Americans are traveling for the holidays in numbers not seen since before the pandemic, with nearly 113 million people expected to travel at least 50 miles from home this holiday season, according to the American Automobile Association.It's the third-busiest travel year since AAA began tracking the data in 2000.

The pressure on airlines is leading to thousands of canceled, or delayed, flights and skyrocketing airfares.A handful of airlines already are rebooking flights for customers as the weather makes travel more difficult — and potentially deadly.

An arctic cold frontcould cause temperatures to rapidly drop, creating flash-freeze conditions on roadways across the central and southern plains, the National Weather Service said. Heavy snowfall and wind gusts could lead to tree damage and power outages near the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile an extremely cold airmass could hit at least 26 states along the Gulf Coast and in the Eastern U.S., causing some coastal flooding and creating record-breaking low temperatures.

Exposure to the severe windchill in the region could lead to frostbite, hypothermia and death, meteorologists warned — and will be made even more dangerous in some areas by the prospect of blizzard conditions, according to NWS in Des Moines, Iowa.

"What adds to the rarity of this event is that significant blowing snow and possible blizzard conditions may occur at the same time," the NWS tweeted on Wednesday. "People may have little to no experience of these combined conditions."

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Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.