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At This Hour

More Than 200 Million People Under Wind Chill Alerts Across U.S.; Winter Storm Slams U.S. With Bitter Cold, Strong Winds, Heavy Snow; Blizzard Warning And State Of Emergency In Effect In Buffalo; Temperatures To Remain Below Freezing In Denver Today; Memphis Among Southern Cities Facing Dangerous Cold Temperatures; Thousands Of Flight Cancellations, Delays As Winter Storm Hits; Jan 6 Committee Releases Final Report. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 23, 2022 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST, AT THIS HOUR: Hello, everyone. It is the top of the hour. Thanks so much for being here with us. I'm Kate Bolduan. It is the storm that is impacting pretty much everyone in one way or another across the country today. More than 200 million Americans under wind chill alerts and holiday travel plans are getting much more complicated by the hour for so many people, life threatening cold has pushed all the way to the Gulf Coast and the Mexico border.

And with more than 70 million Americans facing temperatures below zero. Today blizzard warnings remain in effect for more than 11 million people. Mostly near the Great Lakes, areas near Buffalo could see up to three feet of snow. They've been getting walloped already this season. And making matters worse, the damaging winds have knocked out power to more than a million customers from Texas to New England.

All of this wintry weather is wreaking havoc on what is typically one of the busiest travel days of the year. More than 3900 flights have already been canceled. Today, more than 3700 others have been delayed. We have reporters covering all of this for you this hour.

Let's start with meteorologist Allison Chinchar once again in Atlanta. Allison, what are you most concerned about now?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST: Mostly a lot of pretty much concerned about most of the people live on the eastern half of the country. And the reason for that is, you have power outage numbers, those are increasing by the minute, but the temperatures in many places have yet to bottom out. So, if you lose the power and your temperatures continue to drop, the big concern becomes all those people without access to heat for prolonged periods of time.

Here in Atlanta, the temperature is 19 degrees right now. But it's actually expected to get even colder as we go into the weekend. In fact, Atlanta could end up having its coldest Christmas Eve on record. Here's the thing, though, we're not the only location. Look at this, this wealth at one point was a towel, it is now frozen solid, a rock of ice right there. But again, as we mentioned, we're not the only place that's cold. You have over - about roughly 60 percent of the U.S. population that is under some type of winter alert, mostly wind chill alerts at this point in time. All of that air, however, is coming from the north. This arctic air really starting to surge down bringing us the Polar Plunge that we are experiencing across much of the country.

The thing is, it's also not just cold temperatures, it's also wind too. A lot of the wind is not only making that temperature field colder, you'll often hear the wind chill that we use that number to describe it. But also, any of these areas where you're getting snow, that wind is also taking that snow and blowing it across the roads, bringing visibility down even more, some places as low as a quarter of a mile visibility.

So, the concern there too, is it reducing visibility and making it even more treacherous to be out on the roads. We also talked about the fact that it's really cold out here. But here's the thing, for some cities, say for example, Kate, Denver, Dallas or New Orleans, they will start to rebound as early as Saturday. But for much of the eastern U.S., say New York, D.C., Atlanta, we really won't see our temperatures get above freezing until early next week.

BOLDUAN: All right. So, hunker down is the message. I appreciate it. Thank you so much. So, a big concern for officials in upstate New York of the road conditions right now. And as of this morning, they're ordering people to stay off the roads in and around Buffalo. A blizzard warning and state of emergency, they are now in effect wind gusts are expected to reach 70 miles per hour as temperatures plummet.


Polo Sandoval is there for us. He filed this report.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. Good to be with it. You know, all you have to do is really look around here in Buffalo and you can see why officials in Erie County, New York, instituted a county wide travel ban. It's something that we're seeing throughout the region, that's because these wicked winter winds are whipping up all this snow.

And the results are these whiteout conditions that are making travel in around the area and only treacherous. But as officials have said time and time again leading up to the storm, life threatening and that's why authorities are hoping that that travel ban will mean that only essential traffic will be on the streets and on these highways.

Really, this is just the beginning of what we expect to be a very long day for folks here in Western New York. And it's not just about the travel concerns, but a flooding concern as well. In fact, less than a mile from where I'm standing is Lake Erie. And officials here have been really worried that the storm as it turns out over Lake Erie, it continues to move east, that it basically forces water closer to some of those lakefront communities.

So, they are some of those communities, including one about a 15- minute drive south of here, where there is a mandatory evacuation in place. So, authorities are keeping a very close eye on those coastal communities. And then of course, as the temperature continues to plummet throughout the day, these roads and these highways will be even more dangerous. Kate, back to you.

BOLDUAN: So, Polo, is there for us. Thank you so much. Now Denver is one of the dozens of major cities under a wind chill warning today. Warming centers have been opened up throughout the city as the temperatures are really still fighting to reach north of zero degrees. Lucy Kafanov, live for us once again in Denver. A reprieve is coming, Lucy, you're just not there yet.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, Kate, breaking news. You heard it first on your show. After nearly 40 hours of consecutive subzero temperatures, the mercury is finally climbed above zero degrees. That is now a sweltering two degrees. Obviously, it doesn't feel much warmer. You can see how dressed I am. But you know, life is returning back to normal. People are sort of milling about a much braver soul than myself is wearing a sweatshirt there. So, kudos to that man.

We did see some of the coldest temperatures that Denver experienced in 32 years yesterday. And the swing, the rapid swing going from a high of 50 on Wednesday to sub-24, 24 degrees below zero Thursday morning. I mean, that was a very quick drop in temperatures, a very dangerous drop and with the wind chills, you know, it feels cold, but it's also very dangerous for things like frostbite.

And so, you mentioned some of the warming centers. We had the massive Denver Coliseum that was opened as a 24-hour emergency shelter place where anyone who needed to get out of the cold could go. There was such a strong demand for that that they actually had to open two more emergency centers. Those will remain open through Saturday.

But again, temperatures are climbing. We should be out of the worst. By Christmas we could get as high as 50 degrees. Of course, the snowstorm this massive arctic blast moving your way pummeling the East Coast right now. But we are now looking at the aftermath is over for us, for now, at least, Kate.

BOLDUAN: For now, at least. It's good to have you, Lucy. Thank you so much. So, Tennessee is seeing the kind of cold that they haven't felt in decades. Temperatures in Memphis, plunge 36 degrees in six hours. 54 degrees in terms of the wind chill. This morning's wind chill minus 19. And in some roads, they're just covered in a sheet of ice. We've seen video of this.

Joining me right now is the Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to talk about the very latest. We're showing our viewers Mayor, some of the video from this morning of the just - like ice rink that has become some of the roads in Memphis. Cars abandoned, people slipping all over the place. What's it like there now?

MAYOR. JIM STRICKLAND, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE (voiceover): It's the same way. It is not improved at all, because it's just so cold that these roads are going to be frozen for a couple of days and Memphis is not used to this. So, this is different for us for sure.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. In terms of that, what can you do in the middle of it? Because you can't force the temperatures to get any - to move north, you know any faster. So, what are you going to do about this?

STRICKLAND (voiceover): Well, first, we're trying to take care of our most vulnerable citizens, those who are homeless and give them shelter with our warming centers and our private nonprofits. And we have several hundred people in those kinds of centers. So that was our priority.

Second priority was to restore power. About 30,000 people in our county had lost power. It's now about 10,000. But TVA has just informed us along with everyone in their service area, which is most of the state, in parts of other states that they do not have the power to give us our full load. So, they want without requiring everyone to shed five to 10 percent of their load, which practically means we have to do rolling blackouts.


BOLDUAN: That's bad news. That's dangerous news.

STRICKLAND (voiceover): It is. And this has just come out - we've just been notified of this in the last hour and we're trying to adjust to it. So, it's made a difficult situation even more difficult. But practically speaking, every customer in our county will lose power twice a day for 30 minutes. Now, thankfully, hospitals, and medical, offices and that will be exempted, but everyone else will be impacted.

BOLDUAN: Why are you - what is the reason behind why they can't give you the full load? Because you would think that this is the moment that the residents in your city needed the most. 30 minutes without power twice a day, it might sound like not a lot, but in the temperatures that you're looking at, it truly is a problem.

STRICKLAND (voiceover): Yes, it could. Wind chills as you said it's minus 15 at its lowest, so this is a real struggle. This has never happened in my lifetime. It's a hadn't happened in Memphis for at least over 50 years. And I do not know the cause of it. The only speculation I have now is TVA did not anticipate the need for it. And therefore, it had not bought or created the power that's needed. But it's going to be a challenge for everyone in the Memphis area and across the state.

BOLDUAN: This is going to be a real challenge. What should people, I mean, people clearly need to prepare for now rolling blackouts? And these 30 minutes are going to be without power. But what do you want that - what do you - what do you need to tell residents right now because this is going to be news to a lot of people in Memphis?

STRICKLAND (voiceover): First, we're trying to get the news out to every single person and every single household because they need to know, and it is starting very soon. Second, we have some high rises and people don't, frankly, if they can get away without using elevators, don't get in the elevator. So, we're trying to get the words to those high rises as soon as we can.

And let the medical facilities know in case their power does go out, they need to notify us ASAP. Our local energy provider company MLGW, Memphis Light, Gas and Water has never done this. So, it's a first- time affair for them. So hopefully, they do it right. But you know, mistakes can happen. So, this is not the way we want to enter the Christmas season.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely not, Mayor. Mayor, thank you so much for jumping on. We're going to follow up with this because this is happening as we speak. And residents in Memphis need to now prepare for what this is going to mean is rolling blackouts with these freezing in subzero temperatures are going to be setting in, and now they're going to have to face rolling blackouts at least for a period of time.

Mayor, thank you for jumping on to bring us that news. We're going to follow up with you. Thank you very much.

STRICKLAND (voiceover): Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. So, these life-threatening winter storms are also causing a holiday travel nightmare at airports across the United States. Today more than 4000 cancellations so far. Let's get over CNN's Pete Muntean at Chicago O'Hare. You've been camped out there. I know that I heard you say this morning that even your flight has been canceled, which I didn't even know that was possible to cancel Pete Muntean flight. But in all seriousness, though, Pete, what are travelers dealing with?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, travelers are dealing with more desperation now than they were yesterday because they were still able to get out a bit ahead of the storm. But the cancellations just continue to go up and up, Kate, by the moment were at 4,006 cancellations nationwide right now. It really pales in comparison to what we saw yesterday. 2,600 cancellations nationwide according to FlightAware.

Look at the cancellation board here at O'Hare. This is the biggest hub for United Airlines, more and more new airports that were previously untouched by the storm, keep showing up on this list. LaGuardia is up really high on the list, as is Detroit that's a large hub for Delta Airlines. About 40 percent of all flights have been canceled there.

The storm is moving east. This is now impacting D.C., Philadelphia, Newark, JFK, the list goes on, Boston. So, if you are trying to get out from the East Coast today, you may experience delays and cancellations not just because of the snow, not just because of the cold, but also because of the wind. The cold though, is a really big factor here.

And I want you to listen now to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who echoed what United Airlines told me just the other day. That the cold is really what slowing things down for ground crews, that makes it especially hard for them to work, just to get the airplane moving, loading bags, pushing it back from the gate and getting it module up to the gate it the case happens. It's really, really tough for them. Listen?


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: It's really about that that frigid temperature that you're seeing, that limits the ability of ground crews to operate. They make it look easy, you see that they've got a lot of winter weather gear, but there's still only so long that that these workers can be on the ground servicing those aircraft before it's a safety issue and they need to get back inside.



MUNTEAN: Look at the security line here at Chicago, O'Hare. 20 minutes long according to the sign here. It is not done just yet. The rush is continuing to happen here, Kate. Also, it's not just passengers, the rush for packages is on too. And UPS, FedEx, the postal service, they all tell us they have contingency plans in place, although we may see some packages delayed as they try to get on your doorstep by Christmas day because of this weather.

BOLDUAN: Well, and just taking that full circle, Pete. I don't know if you heard my conversation with the mayor of Memphis just now. Memphis is the home to the largest hub in the country for FedEx and now they're dealing with. I don't know if it includes a FedEx facility, but they're going to be dealing with rolling blackouts in Memphis because of the impact on the power grid that they're hearing in that area.

So, there's a lot of ripple effects we could be seeing that just setting in right now. So, thanks for bringing that too us. Pete, I really appreciate it. So, the January 6 committee has released its final report, including full details from more than a thousand witness interviews. We're going to hear from one of those witnesses next.




BOLDUAN: The report is out from the January 6 committee and the case that they make in those 845 pages, it gets down to one central cause. The insurrection on the Capitol would not have happened. They make the case and argue without one-person, former President Donald Trump. The panel put out their final report last night, detailing all of their findings and making 11 recommendations including the suggestion that Trump should be barred from ever holding public office again.

Joining me now is former Trump White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews. She resigned from the Trump administration on January 6, and testified before the January 6 committee, both behind closed doors, and in a public hearing. Sarah, it's good to have you here.

So, this committee highlighted what you told them. And among these findings, among these many pages, they highlighted what you told them about the president's efforts to promote the fraudulent conspiracy theory about Dominion voting machines. And what that pressure did to then White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

I want to read a portion of what you told the committee even though, you know, your words, but just for everyone, what came out of the report. You told them, McEnany felt uncomfortable promoting the Dominion conspiracy theory, and that the president had asked her to talk about that during interviews. He did request her to do briefings on it as well, but we did not. Why was this an important moment to you?

SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER TRUMP WH DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think it was a hugely important moment, because even his own White House press secretary wasn't willing to go out there and lie and defend these conspiracy theories on his behalf. And he also wanted her to do it from the White House podium, meaning he wanted her to break the law. There is a law in place called the Hatch Act that forbids White House employees from going and doing campaign activity, while they're functioning in their government role.

And so, I think it just shows though, that there were people on his own staff who knew that his theories and everything about the election being fraudulent, there was no base to them. And so, I think that it just shows though, how desperate the former president was to cling to anything in his efforts to try to overturn the election.

BOLDUAN: And what you've learned, you know, through the coverage of this final report is obviously it's many hundreds of pages to go through. Does anything surprise you? I mean, you lived part of this, obviously, from what your aspect of leading up to in on the day of January 6, and what you saw and testified too. Did anything surprise you?

MATTHEWS: I think, obviously, a lot was uncovered in the committee's investigation. And so, I definitely learned things that were going on at the White House that I didn't even realize while I was working there. But I think some of the things that have surprised me most just reading over the committee's report, and some of the transcripts is how so many of my former colleagues seem to have horrible memories.

They claim they can't recall certain things. Or, you know, I'd say that things didn't happen, when in fact, there are other witnesses who did come forward and speak the truth and shed light on what took place in the build up to January 6, and on that day itself. And so, you know, it is unsurprising sometimes, I think, in Trump world that some people care more about protecting themselves in their careers, but it's still disappointing.

BOLDUAN: You know, I was also struck by some of the new detail from Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony that came out. She was so uncomfortable using the former Trump White House attorney as her lawyer, and so scared of what speaking up could mean that she told her mother, and this is in part of the transcript. She told her mother essentially that she was screwed. And she said, I'm completely indebted to these people, and they will ruin my life, mom, if I do anything that they don't want me to do.

And then at a different point in the transcript, she also tells her biological father. I don't remember. I remember saying to him, you have no idea what they're going to do to me. Did you feel that way when you were making your decision to speak to the committee and to speak up publicly?


MATTHEWS: Yes. And I broke my heart to read Cassidy's transcript and know that she faced a similar moral struggle that I did with choosing to come forward. I think signing up to be a witness, especially in such a public setting, you know, that you're going to face harassment, potential security threats, financial burden and that it could potentially hurt you on career wise in the future. And Trump world is definitely vindictive.

And so, I knew by cooperating as well that they were going to try to blacklist me from potential job opportunities or there would be personal attacks, etc. And so, I think that just speaks to Cassidy's bravery, though, her patriotism and her courage, despite all of that, she chose to do what was best for the country. And I think that just speaks in stark contrast to the men who are, you know, two three times her age who chose to not come forward.

BOLDUAN: You know, your courage as well. You standing up and sitting publicly, where men two three times your age would not do it as well either.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Sarah. I really appreciate your time. So, freezing temperatures are being felt as far south as the Texas-Mexico border, temperatures dipping to the teens in some areas and the cold isn't expected to leave anytime soon. We're going to take you there, next.