Storm pummels U.S.; thousands lose power
High winds and heavy snow disrupted holiday travel, knocked out power to thousands of homes and caused at least six deaths as a powerful winter storm system pounded the nation’s midsection Wednesday, then headed toward the Northeast.
More than 1,000 flights were canceled or delayed, scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts, and blizzard warnings were issued. Snowy gusts of 30 mph blanketed roads and windshields, at times causing whiteout conditions.
“The way I’ve been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that’s sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex,” said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.
The system, which spawned tornadoes in the Gulf Coast
region on Christmas Day, pushed through the upper Ohio Valley en route to western New York and Maine, where forecasts called for 12 to 18 inches of snow. Boston and New York City were expected to be spared the worst of the weather.
The storm left freezing temperatures in its aftermath, and forecasters also said parts of the Southeast from Virginia to Florida would see severe thunderstorms.
With schools on break and workers taking holiday vacations, many people were able avoid messy commutes, but those who had to travel were implored to avoid it. Snow was blamed for scores of vehicle accidents as far east as Maryland, and about two dozen counties in Indiana and Ohio issued snow emergency travel alerts, urging people to go out on the roads only if necessary.
About 40 vehicles got bogged down trying to make it up a slick hill in central Indiana, and four state snowplows slid off roads as snow fell at the rate of 3 inches an hour in some places.
Two passengers in a car on a sleet-slickened Arkansas highway were killed Wednesday in a head-on collision, and two people, including a 76-yearold Milwaukee woman, were killed Tuesday on Oklahoma highways. Deaths from wind-toppled trees were reported in Texas and Louisiana.
Traffic crawled at 25 mph on Interstate 81 in Maryland, where authorities reported scores of accidents.
“We’re going to try to go down South and get below” the storm, said Richard Power, traveling from home in Levittown, N.Y., to Kentucky with his wife, two children and their beagle, Lucky. He said they were well on their way until they hit snow in Pennsylvania, then 15-mph traffic on I-81 at Hagerstown, Md.
More than 1,400 flights were canceled by evening, according to FlightAware.com, and some airlines said they would waive change fees. Delays of more than an hour were reported Wednesday at the three New York City-area airports, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
In Arkansas, some of the nearly 200,000 people who lost power could be without it for as long as a week because of snapped poles and wires after ice and 10 inches of snow coated power lines, said the state’s largest utility, Entergy Arkansas. Gov. Mike Beebe sent out National Guard teams, and Humvees transported medical workers and patients. Snow hadn’t fallen in Little Rock on Christmas since 1926, but the capital ended Tuesday with 10.3 inches.
As the storm moved east, New England state highway departments were treating roads and getting ready to mobilize with snowfall forecasts of a foot or more that was expected to start falling late Wednesday and through today.
“People are picking up salt and a lot of shovels today,” said Andy Greenwood, an assistant manager at Aubuchon Hardware in Keene, N.H.
Behind the storm, Mississippi’s governor declared states of emergency in eight counties with more than 25 people reported injured and 70 homes left damaged.
Cindy Williams, 56, stood near a home in McNeill, Miss., where its front had collapsed into a pile, a balcony and the porch ripped apart. But she focused on the fact that her family had escaped harm.
“We are so thankful,” she said. “God took care of us.”
DAYTON, OHIO: A pedestrian walks on a snow-covered road during a blizzard Wednesday. About two dozen counties in Ohio and Indiana issued snow emergency travel alerts.
MOBILE, ALA.: Teacher Leland Howard salvages items Wednesday from his classroom in a temporary building at Murphy High School following a Christmas Day tornado.