Colorado wildfires, New Year's Eve, lifted travel ban: 5 things you need to know Friday – USA TODAY

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The last day of 2021 and the first day of 2022 will continue the string of recent wild weather across much of the nation: Severe thunderstorms, heavy snow, bitter cold and freakish warmth are all on the docket. “From bitterly cold wind chills and travel-disruptive snowfall totals to severe storms and flash flooding, (the weather) will make for a treacherous start to 2022,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Peter Mullinax. While the Southeast deals with unusual, spring-like warmth and an outbreak of severe weather, an “enormous” snowstorm will bring hazardous travel conditions all the way from Colorado to Michigan. At the same time, intense cold will continue to make its presence felt across much of the north-central U.S., where wind chill readings will drop to as low as 50 degrees below zero in some areas, including Montana and North Dakota, over the next few days.
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The Boulder suburbs of Superior and Louisville are reeling from wind-driven wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses and forced tens of thousands of people to flee Thursday. Forecasters predicted that conditions would improve overnight with decreasing winds, and snow that’s expected Friday could help douse the blaze, a National Weather Service meteorologist told USA TODAY. About 600 homes, a Target shopping complex and a hotel have been destroyed or damaged by fire, authorities said. While there had been no reports of missing people or fatalities Thursday, the Boulder County sheriff said he would not be surprised if there were injuries or deaths from the fires. 
The Biden administration lifts its temporary travel ban on eight countries in southern Africa on Friday.  The restrictions were implemented in late November to slow the spread of the omicron variant in the United States, and they applied to South Africa – where omicron was first detected – as well as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Most noncitizens who have been in those countries within the past 14 days have not been allowed to enter the U.S. The news comes after other countries, including Canada, dropped similar travel restrictions. President Joe Biden said earlier last week he was considering reversing the restrictions after lifting bans against dozens of other countries. 
The College Football Playoff will begin on Friday, with two semifinal matchups scheduled to kickoff. The first playoff game starts at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN when No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 4 Cincinnati in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Alabama will be led by this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Bryce Young, with 4,322 passing yards and 43 touchdowns this season. On the other side, Cincinnati is led by their stout defense spearheaded by cornerback and Jim Thorpe Award winner, Coby Bryant. The other semifinal matchup, starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, pits No. 2 Michigan against No. 3 Georgia in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Both teams are anchored by elite defenses that were both in the top 5 nationally in points allowed per game. 
When most people think about New Year’s Eve festivities in the U.S., the famous ball drop in New York City comes to mind. But that’s far from the only “drop” happening on New Year’s Eve every year. Cities and towns across the nation can get pretty creative with the objects they drop to ring in the new year. Some of the most unique drops range from oversized foods – an peach, a potato and chili – to other random objects, like a giant acorn and a wrench. And in some instances, cities will even raise an item, like the a giant Hershey’s Kiss in (no surprise here) Hershey, Pennsylvania.
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