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

Travelers walk through the snow into Terminal 1 Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022 at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport in Minneapolis.
Alex Kormann
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AP
Travelers walk through the snow into Terminal 1 Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022 at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport in Minneapolis.

Updated December 21, 2022 at 8:26 PM ET

Cities in the West are experiencing drastic drops in temperatures in just a matter of minutes, as dangerous winter weather conditions sweep across the U.S.

In Cheyenne, Wyo., the temperature plunged from 43 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit in just 30 minutes on Wednesday afternoon, shattering Cheyenne's previous one-hour temperature drop record of 37 degrees, the National Weather Service said. Later that evening, the temperature continued to plummet from from 42 to -9 degrees Fahrenheit in two hours.

In Colorado, meteorologists reported record drops of 40.8°F in 30 minutes and 42.3°F in an hour in northern Colorado.

The extremely cold airmass is expected to hit at least 24 other states along the Gulf Coast and in the eastern U.S., causing some coastal flooding and creating flash-freeze conditions on roadways across the central and southern plains, the National Weather Service said.

The shocking cold is just part of the dangerous conditions that 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.

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

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.

Exposure to severe windchill can lead to frostbite, hypothermia and death, meteorologists warned — and will be made even more dangerous in some areas by the prospect of blizzard conditions.

"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 in Des Moines, Iowa, tweeted on Wednesday. "People may have little to no experience of these combined conditions."

Eastward, in the Great Lakes region, heavy snowfall and wind gusts could lead to tree damage and power outages.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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.