A local resident shovels snow off the end of a driveway, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022, in Urbandale, Iowa. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / AP

A monstrous once-in-a-decade winter storm is battering a huge swath of the central U.S. with snow and frigid temperatures, making a mess of highways and canceling thousands of 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 through Jan. 2, according to AAA. The storm and deep freeze has even triggered warnings from the White House.

“This is not like a snow day, you know, when you’re a kid. This is serious stuff,” President Joe Biden said in a Thursday briefing, calling it “dangerous” and threatening. “If you all have travel plans, leave now. Not a joke.”

More than 2,200 flights have been scrubbed already, with the majority of Thursday’s cancellations in Chicago and Denver, according to airline tracking service FlightAware. As the storm moves east, travel disruptions are set to strike New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where 158 Friday flights have already been scrapped. Several airlines have waived fees for those looking to rebook.

The arctic front, expected to continue for the rest 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 U.S. Weather Prediction Center. “It is something that happens only every one or two decades.”

Chicago’s Thursday night low is forecast to be -6F, with an expected 4 to 6 inches of snowfall driven by wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour, cutting visibility. Buffalo could get up to 3 feet of snow. New York will mainly see rain starting later Thursday, though Friday night readings in Central Park will drop to 15F.

Extreme cold warnings also cover western Canada, while Toronto is under a winter storm watch with forecasters calling for about 5 inches of snow, a flash freeze and high winds, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

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.

Wind advisories and warnings stretch from northern New Jersey to northern Maine and there’s risk of moderate coastal flooding in Virginia and throughout New England.

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, according to Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center. Some places could see see windchills that make the cold feel like -65F, which can kill exposed people and livestock.

Farmers are bracing for record cold that could cause machinery to break down, impact winter wheat growth and freeze livestock at a time of already historic food inflation.

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, Chenard said. The snow from the storm won’t be that extreme for many places, though high winds will be a problem, he said.