Heavy snow in U.S. West and Midwest could disrupt post-Thanksgiving travel

(Reuters) – A major winter storm will lumber across the United States over the weekend, dumping snow as it moves east from the U.S. West and threatening to disrupt millions of people traveling home after celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

Over a foot of snow is forecast in mountainous parts of Colorado, Utah and Arizona on Friday before the storm system slips toward the upper Midwest, the National Weather Service said.

Freezing rain will likely turn to snowy blizzards in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan beginning on Friday night, with more than 18 inches of snowfall possible in some mountainous areas, the service said.

Some snow could appear in the Northeast by Sunday morning, the service said. New York City and other places further down the Atlantic Coast can expect a wintry mix of precipitation on Sunday.

More than 4 million Americans were expected to fly and another 49 million expected to drive at least 50 miles or more this week for Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association.

Wintry weather disrupted travel this week ahead of Thursday’s Thanksgiving celebrations, with airports in Minneapolis and Chicago reporting hundreds of delayed or canceled flights.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Millions in central U.S. brace for ‘life-threatening’ blizzards, potential floods

Floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A blizzard hitting the U.S. Rockies on Wednesday was forecast to move eastward over the next day, threatening to bring new flooding to the Plains states including parts of South Dakota and Missouri that are still recovering from last month’s inundation.

High spring temperatures will give way to heavy snow, gale-force winds and life-threatening conditions across a swathe of the central United States running from the Rockies to the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is potentially a life-threatening storm,” Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, said Wednesday.

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A cyclone last month dropped heavy rains over that region, causing extensive flooding along the Missouri River and more than $3 billion in damage to property and crops in Nebraska and Iowa.

Pueblo, Colorado, hit 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) on Tuesday, but will drop down to 25F (minus 4C) by early Thursday. Similar temperatures are forecast in Denver.

The storm is expected to bring blinding, heavy wet snow across the region, likely downing trees and causing widespread power outages, widespread road closures and making driving treacherous, Burke said.

“It’s slow moving. It won’t push farther east until Friday,” he said.

Some areas of western Minnesota and southeast South Dakota were expected to get up to 30 inches of wet, heavy snow, the NWS said.

Two factors may limit the flooding effect, forecasters said. Thawed ground will be able to absorb more precipitation than last month’s frozen ground and a fall of heavy snow rather than rain will slow the runoff process.

Nearly 500 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport on Wednesday, about a quarter of its total schedule, according to FlightAware.com, an airline tracking website.

Airport officials said they had snow-removal crews in place.

The coming storm was expected to exacerbate flooding along the Missouri River in areas where dozens of levees were breached in March, exposing communities to future surges. The river was not expected to crest in areas of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri until between three to five days after the storm.

The storm is expected to weaken and push off into the Great Lakes area and northern Michigan on Friday, bringing more rain and snow, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)

Nebraska preps nuclear plant for possible flooding, no public danger

Corp of Engineers photo of the nuclear power plant during the 2011 Missouri River flooding

(Reuters) – Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) on Friday declared an “unusual event” at its Cooper nuclear power station in Nebraska due to the possibility of flooding along the Missouri River following a powerful winter storm this week.

The plant continues to operate safely and “there is no threat to plant employees or to the public,” the utility said in a release.

The late winter storm, dubbed a “bomb cyclone” by meteorologists, left blizzards, floods and tornados in its wake after hitting the U.S. Mountain and Plains states this week, before pushing east into the Midwest and the Great Lakes Region early Friday.

NPPD said its workers have filled sandbags along the river levee and procured other materials and supplies for flood protection.

The biggest danger to a nuclear plant from flooding is the loss of power, which can make it difficult to cool the uranium fuel in the reactor core and the fuel stored in the spent fuel pool.

That is what caused the fuel in some reactor cores at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan to partially melt down in 2011 after a giant earthquake and tsunami cut power to the plant.

Since Fukushima, all U.S. reactors have been upgraded with additional safety equipment, including portable pumps and generators to keep cooling water circulating through the reactor in case the plant loses offsite power.

NPPD said its procedures require it to declare an unusual event to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission when the Missouri River tops 899 feet above sea level. It reached 899.05 feet Friday morning, the company said.

Should the river rise to 900 feet above sea level, NPPD said plant workers will “barricade internal doorways as another layer of protection for facility equipment.”

If the river reaches 901.5 feet above sea level, NPPD said it would take the station offline as a protective measure.

The plant was built at 903 feet above sea level, which is 13 feet above natural grade, NPPD said.

The Cooper station is three miles (4.8 km) southeast of Brownville, Nebraska, near the Missouri River.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)

Italy avalanche rescuers dig for fifth day, alleged delay probed

Rescue workers at Italy hotel that was covered after avalanche

By Antonio Denti

PENNE, Italy (Reuters) – Rescuers dug in the buried ruins of a mountainside hotel in central Italy for a fifth day running on Monday, as questions multiplied over the initial response to last week’s blizzards and deadly avalanche.

Eleven people survived the Jan. 18 disaster in the Gran Sasso national park, including four children who were extracted from under tonnes of snow and debris on Friday. Six bodies have been recovered and a further 23 people are still missing.

Video footage showed one rescuer wriggling through a tiny hole cut in the concrete roof of the Hotel Rigopiano trying to find more possible survivors.

“We are working on the theory that the avalanche did not necessarily hit or destroy every room and that we haven’t yet reached the heart of the structure,” said Luca Cari, spokesman of the national fire brigades.

“We are continuing to explore the inside of the building in the hope of finding someone alive, although there is no certainty of this.”

Italian media published an email sent by the hotel manager on Jan. 18 to an array of local authorities, urging help to clear the access roads to enable the guests to escape after a series of powerful earthquakes had rattled the region.

“The clients have been terrorized by the tremors,” said the email. However, no help came before the avalanche struck, with local authorities saying that their most powerful snow plow had broken down and they did not have the money to repair it.

“The snow plow had been in for repairs for months”, said Luigi Di Maio, a leading light in the opposition 5-Star Movement, who accused the government of depriving local provinces of vital funds.

The government has promised to review its emergency response apparatus in the wake of the disaster. A court in nearby Pescara has opened an investigation into the tragedy.

Staff operating emergency hotlines allegedly did not take seriously early telephone calls reporting the disaster.

“The operator did not believe me,” said restaurant owner Quintino Marcella, who had called for help after one of his employees telephoned from the obliterated hotel.

Italian media said the emergency services had contacted the hotel’s owner to see if he could confirm the avalanche. He reportedly said he knew nothing about it, but the operators were apparently unaware that he was not actually there.

As a result, the rescue operation only got into gear some 2-1/2 hours later, with the first rescue team arriving by ski 11 hours after the catastrophe because the roads were impassable.

Waiting nervously at a hospital in Pescara, the father of one man who was in the hotel accused authorities of wrongly telling him his son had been rescued along with his girlfriend.

Alessio Feniello said his son’s girlfriend had been pulled to safety and had told her rescuers that Stefano Feniello, 28, was still inside.

“If there was a thread of hope to rescue (my son), there isn’t any hope anymore,” he told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Roberto Mignucci and Carmelo Camilli in Pescara; Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Tom Heneghan)