Christmas travel plans dashed for many trying to fly to family and friends

Thousands of flights were canceled amid one of the most treacherous holiday travel seasons the United States has seen in decades, with temperatures plummeting 50 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas and forecasters warning of an impending "bomb cyclone" that could make conditions even worse before Christmas.

On Friday morning, even though California temperatures remain in the 50s and 60s, flights from elsewhere were getting delayed and canceled throughout the rest of the country. 

San Francisco International Airport had 99 cancellations by 6 p.m., San Jose had 35 and Oakland had 36 – about triple the number from the day before. 

Mason Limtiaco was trying to get to San Jose, but stuck in Colorado Springs until he could catch the next flight. 

"I'm just glad I get to go home," he told KTVU over Zoom on Friday morning. "It's no one's fault. It's this storm rolling through. I'd rather be alive and waiting than dead on a plane that crashed."

Nationwide, at least 3,600 flights had been canceled early Friday morning. Certain flights from Seattle and Portland were canceled through noon because of icy runway conditions. 

The frigid air was moving through the central United States to the east, with windchill advisories affecting about 135 million people over the coming days, weather service meteorologist Ashton Robinson Cook said. Places like Des Moines, Iowa, will feel like minus 37 degrees, making it possible to suffer frostbite in less than five minutes.

"This is not like a snow day when you were a kid," President Joe Biden warned Thursday in the Oval Office after a briefing from federal officials. "This is serious stuff."

Forecasters are expecting a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — to develop into Friday near the Great Lakes. That will stir up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.