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Winter weather: As temperatures plummet, hundreds of thousands face a Christmas without power

More than 300,000 people from Michigan to Maine are still without power after storms hit this past weekend. NBC's John Yang reports.

Crews steadfastly planned to work overnight Tuesday and far into Christmas Day to restore electric power to almost 300,000 homes and businesses from Michigan to Maine after an ice storm brought down trees and power lines.

With temperatures far below freezing, ice on power lines was refusing to budge after the severe weekend weather. More than 185,000 customers remained without power Tuesday night in Michigan, with 85,000 more in the dark in Maine, utility companies reported.

Kevin Roth, a lead meteorologist for The Weather Channel, said parts of Michigan — were experiencing temperatures between zero and 10 degrees, with wind chills well below zero.

Despite the relentless efforts of crews, it looked almost certain that some people would be left without heat and light until as late as Sunday.

"The biggest weather issue in the U.S. right now is the cold air," Roth said. "There is a warming trend on its way, but unfortunately it is not set to hit some of these places until Sunday."

DTE, which serves southeast Michigan, said about 42,000 customers remained without power Tuesday night. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 utility workers from other companies and states flooded into the state to help Consumers Energy customers get out of the dark, but more than 143,000 of its customers remained without electricity late into the evening.

Most of the hotels and motels around Flint had no vacancies Tuesday night as families poured in to be somewhere warm for the holiday, NBC station WEYI reported.

"We knew they were going to be filled up, because we heard there was a lot of outages," Flint resident Tricia Huyck told the station.

Given its small population, the impact was proportionally much harder in Maine, where more than 85,000 customers were still without power as midnight approached.

Emergency officials across the state said the ice storm had created the worst conditions since the Great Ice Storm of January 1998, which left some parts of New England without power for months.

"Power outages are far and away the biggest problem," Mike Hinerman, director of emergency services in Washington County, told NBC station WCSH of Portland.

"The biggest thing is life safety," Hinerman said. "When it's 32 degrees out, you can stay relatively warm and relatively safe for a fair amount of time. But tonight, the temperature's going down into the single digits."

In Waldo County, more than  30,000 customers were without power Tuesday night — equivalent to about three-quarters of the county's entire population.

"It's as bad as we've had probably in the last 10 or 15 years," Emergency Management Director Dale Rowley told NBC station WLBZ of Bangor.

Upstate New York and much of the rest of New England were also expected to have an inch of snow on the ground come Christmas morning. Major East Coast cities, such as Boston, New York and Washington, were all due to miss out on a white Christmas.

Tony Chau of NBC News contributed to this report.


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