Commuters in U.S. South face tough trek after deadly storm

Snow cover in the U.S. 1-18-18 - National Weather Service

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Commuters in the U.S. South faced frigid temperatures and dangerously slick roads on Thursday after a winter storm, responsible for at least eight deaths, thrashed the region with heavy snow and winds that snapped power lines.

Schools in New Orleans, Charlotte and Atlanta and across the region canceled classes on Thursday as winter weather advisories from the National Weather Service (NWS) remained in effect from eastern Texas to Florida and north into southeast Virginia.

“Motorists are urged to use extreme caution, or avoid travel if possible,” the NWS said in an advisory, warning that freezing temperatures would keep roads icy.

Wind chill advisories were in effect as temperatures will feel like they have fallen below zero Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) in parts of the Carolinas, Alabama and Virginia.

More than 14,000 households and businesses in North Carolina and Louisiana and in various parts of the South were without power early on Thursday, utility companies said online.

The governors of Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana declared states of emergency because of severe conditions that made traveling treacherous.

“We cannot stress it enough for everyone to stay off the roads unless you have no choice,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said in a statement, adding the storm had caused 1,600 traffic accidents.

More than 9 inches (23 cm) of snow have fallen in Durham, North Carolina since Monday, with 7 inches (18 cm) or more measured at various locations across southern Virginia, the NWS said.

The storm has caused at least eight deaths.

In Austin, Texas, a vehicle plunged more than 30 feet (9 meters) off a frozen overpass on Tuesday, killing a man in his 40s, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service said on its Twitter feed.

An 82-year-old woman who suffered from dementia was found dead on Wednesday behind her Houston-area home, likely due to exposure to cold, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office said. Another woman died from cold exposure in Memphis, police said on Twitter.

In Georgia, two people were fatally struck by a car that slid on an ice patch near Macon, local media reports said.

A man was killed when he was knocked off an elevated portion of Interstate 10 in New Orleans and an 8-month-old baby died in a car crash in suburban New Orleans, local news reports said.

A woman died in West Virginia in a car crash, local reports said.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Edmund Blair and Bernadette Baum)

Flights canceled, schools closed across snowy U.S. South

Snow falls through a picture frame in the Boston Public Garden during a winter storm in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., January 17, 2018.

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – A bitter winter storm gripped much of the South on Wednesday, prompting schools to close and causing thousands of flight delays and cancellations as snow, ice and record-breaking cold hit the region.

The storm led to a least one death when a vehicle in Austin, Texas, plunged more than 30 feet off a frozen overpass late on Tuesday, killing a man in his 40s, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service said on its Twitter feed.

Winter weather advisories were in effect from the Northeast to the Mid-Atlantic states and Southeast, as well as over the central Gulf Coast of Texas, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Winter storm warnings were also in effect for portions of the Carolinas, southern Virginia and the New England area.

More than 360 outgoing flights at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport were canceled or delayed on Wednesday, according to Flightaware.com, and another 60-plus were canceled or delayed at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

The governors of Georgia, North Carolina and Louisiana declared states of emergency due to severe winter weather conditions, which caused multiple car accidents during rush-hour traffic, officials said.

NWS meteorologist Dan Petersen said snowfall in central and north Georgia had ended, and the arctic cold front would now bring snow, frigid temperatures and frozen roadways across central North Carolina on Wednesday.

“The rain in central North Carolina will eventually turn into snow later today and is predicted to dump 6 to 8 inches of snow over central North Carolina and about 1 to 3 inches over east North Carolina,” he said.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned at a news briefing that cold temperatures Wednesday night would make travel conditions even more hazardous.

“The snow is pretty, but don’t be fooled,” Cooper said.

In Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, most freeways were closed on Wednesday morning after icing over, the city’s Office of Emergency Management said.

“Not a good idea to be out on the roads. Conditions are still unsafe,” the Texas Department of Transportation Houston Division said on its Twitter feed.

New Orleans had record-breaking cold temperatures Wednesday morning with 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the area, beating its previous record 23 degrees set in 1977, according to the NWS. Hattiesburg, Mississippi, also broke temperature records with 12 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday, beating its 14 degrees also set in 1977.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)

Aliens, apocalypse, lightning? … No, just a meteor rocking Michigan

A meteor is caught on security camera footage in a residential area in Newport, Michigan, U.S., January 16, 2018 in this still image from video

(Reuters) – A bright meteor briefly swept across the sky over parts of the U.S. Midwest and Canada on Tuesday, weather and geology agencies said, and then caused a powerful explosion that rattled homes and onlookers.

The meteor was seen across the region in places such as Ohio, Michigan and Ontario at about 8 p.m. local time and registered a 2.0 magnitude tremor about 4 miles (7 km) east of Saint Clair Shores in Eastern Michigan, the United States Geological Survey said on its website.

A car dash cam captures a view of a meteor near Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, U.S., January 16, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media.

A car dash cam captures a view of a meteor near Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, U.S., January 16, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Youtube Mike Austin/via REUTERS

The National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed it was not a meteorological event but more likely a meteor.

“The NWS can confirm the flash and boom was NOT thunder or lightning, but instead a likely meteor,” the NWS in Detroit said on Twitter.

The meteor sighting lit up social media with people posting videos and reaction.

“I can’t believe there was a Meteor! It shook our house and made a large bang! We thought someone hit our house,” Twitter user Jennifer Wilson said in a post.

 

Others had more ominous thoughts.

“I thought for sure I was either seeing the alien invasion or the apocalypse. It’s awesome in retrospect, freaky … in real time,” said a Twitter user who goes by the name Crash.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Paul Tait)

At least six dead in Southern California flooding, mudslides

A search dog looks for victims in damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – At least six people died and thousands fled their homes in Southern California on Tuesday as a powerful rainstorm triggered flash floods and mudslides on slopes where a series of intense wildfires had burned off protective vegetation last month.

The heavy downpours subsided early Tuesday after prompting evacuation orders for residents along the Pacific Coast north of Los Angeles, but forecasters warned of more rain throughout the day. Rainfall totals ranged from 2 inches to 4-1/2 inches (5 to 11 cm) in the area, said the National Weather Service.

At least six people died in the storm and mudslides in Santa Barbara County, the hardest-hit county in the region, incident command spokeswoman Amber Anderson said in a telephone interview. She did not specify the cause of the fatalities, but said they occurred in several locations in Santa Barbara where there were mudslides.

The threat of mudslides prompted the county to order 7,000 residents to leave their homes before the rains came and to urge 23,000 others to evacuate voluntarily.

Boulders block a road after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

Boulders block a road after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS

The county set up an evacuation shelter at Santa Barbara City College, and also gave residents a place to take their animals. The weather in Southern California was mild this week, so residents who fled their homes did not have to endure the cold snap that has gripped the U.S. Midwest and East Coast in recent weeks.

A neighborhood in the upscale community of Montecito, where mudslides ravaged homes near the city of Santa Barbara, residents had not been put under mandatory evacuation orders before mud from a creek cascaded toward their homes, Anderson said.

But she could not immediately say whether any of the fatalities were in the area that was not evacuated.

An unknown number of people in the county were unaccounted for, Anderson said, and 25 residents have been injured.

Photos posted by the local fire department showed a teenager covered in black mud being led away from the rubble of a house that had been destroyed by the Montecito mudslide. She had been trapped in the home for hours before rescuers came to her aid, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said on Twitter.

Other pictures showed ankle-deep mud, logs and boulders in residential areas.

Emergency workers, using search dogs and helicopters, have rescued dozens of people stranded in rubble, Anderson said.

Emergency personnel search through debris and damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

Emergency personnel search through debris and damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS

Last month’s wildfires, the largest in California history, left the area vulnerable to mudslides. The fires burned away grass and shrubs that hold the soil in place, and also baked a waxy layer into the earth which prevents water from sinking deeply into the ground.

The overnight rains forced road closures, including a 30-mile (48-km) stretch of U.S. Highway 101, essentially cutting off traffic between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties northwest of Los Angeles. Ventura County escaped with little damage, the county sheriff’s office said.

(Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

Thousands in California flee homes ahead of possible mudslides

California wildfire fight aided by better weather

(Reuters) – Thousands of Southern Californians fled their homes on Monday as a powerful rain storm that could cause flash floods and trigger mudslides soaked steep slopes where a series of intense wildfires burned off vegetation last month.

Heavy downpours that could produce more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) of rain per hour were expected through Tuesday evening, forcing officials to order or advise Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles county residents who live near where wildfires burned to evacuated their homes.

“Recent burn areas will be especially vulnerable where dangerous mud and debris flows are possible,” the National Weather Service said in a statement.

Several December wildfires, included a blaze known as the Thomas Fire which was the largest in the state’s history, burned away vegetation that holds the soil in place and baked a waxy layer into the earth that prevents water from sinking deeply into the ground.

About 30,000 residents were under evacuation orders or advisories on Monday, ABC news reported.

“I’m just tired. I can’t seem to get my life kick-started,” Teri Lebow, whose Montecito, California was damaged by the wildfires, told the Los Angeles Times.

The storm system was expected to produce 4 inches to 7 inches (10 to 18 cm) in the foothills and mountains with 9 inches (23 cm) in isolated areas. Three inches (7 cm) to two feet (61 cm) of snow was also forecast for higher elevations, the National Weather Service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Storms slam U.S. Southeast as bitter cold drags on

A woman stops to photograph the frozen Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain in New York, U.S., January 3, 2018.

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – Winter storms swept up the U.S Southeast toward New England on Wednesday as snow, freezing rain and strong winds added to record-shattering cold that had much of the eastern United States in its grip.

The wintry mix and low wind chills could cause widespread power outages and leave roads icy, making commuting treacherous for millions of Americans from northern Florida to southern Virginia, the National Weather Service said in a series of warnings.

Some schools and universities in those states were closed on Wednesday in anticipation of the storm. Many flights out of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia and Tallahassee Airport in Florida were canceled.

The weather service said its Tallahassee office measured a snow and sleet accumulation of 0.1 inch (2.5mm) on its roof early in the day, the first time Florida’s capital has had snow in nearly 30 years.

The service said travel in northeastern Florida was likely to be difficult and dangerous.

Two to 3 inches of snow was expected in northeastern Florida, coastal Georgia and South Carolina, according to early morning forecasts, said weather service meteorologist Bob Oravec.

Some Florida and Georgia residents shared images on social media of light snow accumulating.

“So a #SnowDay in #Florida. We know hurricanes. Snow? Not sure what to do here. How do you luge?,” wrote one Twitter user, @thejalexkelly.

On Tuesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott urged residents in the north of the state to brace themselves for the cold. He said cold weather shelters have either opened or would be opened in 22 of the state’s 67 counties.

Some coastal areas of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia could ultimately receive up to 6 inches (15 cm) of snow, along with an accumulation of ice, while parts of New England could see 12 to 15 inches (30-38 cm) of snow and wind gusts of 35 miles per hour (55 km per hour) by the end of week, the weather service said.

Late on Tuesday, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 28 of the state’s 159 counties.

As the storm bears down, an arctic air mass will remain entrenched over the eastern two-thirds of the country through the end of the week, forecasters said. The record-low temperatures were to blame for at least eight deaths in Texas, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Dakota and Michigan over the past several days, officials said.

A large swath of the Midwest was under a wind chill warning on Wednesday as places like Cleveland and Indianapolis had temperatures in the wind of 5 to 20 degrees below zero in Fahrenheit (minus 20 to minus 29 degrees Celsius), while the Deep South faced deep-freeze temperatures that threatened crops and pipes, the weather service warned.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Jonathan Oatis)

Record-shattering cold reaches into Florida

A man walks in falling snow at Times Square as a cold weather front hits the region, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 30, 2017.

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) – Record-shattering arctic cold reached as far south as Florida on Monday with freeze warnings in place from Texas to the Atlantic Coast and the Northeastern United States facing another cold wave at the end of the week, forecasters said.

Temperatures ranged from 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 17 degrees Celsius) below normal across the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, with only southern Florida untouched by the arctic blast.

“That degree of cold will be with us until tomorrow,” said Brian Hurley, a National Weather Service meteorologist at College Park, Maryland. “Tuesday morning, we’re looking at temperatures with very high probability of record lows.”

Along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, the temperature in the city of Mobile could hit a low of 16 F (minus 9 C) overnight. Stiff breezes were expected to create dangerously cold wind chills across southeastern Georgia and most of northeastern Florida, the weather service said.

Michael Kimberl, co-founder of Sean’s Outpost, an encampment for homeless people in Pensacola, Florida, said he was handing out propane fuel and extra blankets to residents.

“Our community is very unequipped for weather of this type,” he said by phone. Homeless shelters were also making special accommodations, including one site available for women and children, he said.

The mass of frigid air pumped south by a dip in the jet stream sent temperatures plunging across the U.S. heartland. Omaha, Nebraska, posted a low of minus 20 F (minus 29 C), breaking a 130-year-old record, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, shattered a record set in 1919 with a temperature of minus 32 F (minus 36 C).

The cold will be unrelenting across the Middle Atlantic and Northeastern United States, with up to two dozen low-temperature records expected in those regions over the next day or two, Hurley said.

Although the cold should ease across most of the United States after Tuesday, the northeastern quarter of the country will see a repeat of the frigid temperatures from Thursday to Friday as another arctic blast hits the area.

The private AccuWeather forecaster said the cold snap could combine with a storm brewing off the Bahamas to bring snow and high winds to much of the Eastern Seaboard as it heads north on Wednesday and Thursday.

The only part of the United States spared the deep freeze is the Southwest, with above-normal temperatures and dry weather expected to linger there, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

Deep freeze keeps grip on eastern United States; four die

Elena Barduniotis from Colorado waits in Times Square ahead of New Year's celebrations in Manhattan.

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A record-shattering Arctic freeze kept its grip on much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains on Tuesday but temperatures everywhere except the Northeast were expected to warm within 24 hours.

Many school districts shut their classrooms due to the cold snap, which claimed four lives over the long New Year’s weekend.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill warnings for Tuesday as dangerously low temperatures were due from eastern Montana across the Midwest into the Atlantic coast and the Northeast and down through the deep South.

School districts in Iowa, Massachusetts, Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina canceled or delayed the start of classes as bitterly cold temperatures, 20 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 17 degrees Celsius) below normal, were expected across the eastern half of the United States.

“Just the bitter cold which is just too dangerous to put kids out on the street waiting for a bus that may not come,” Herb Levine, superintendent of the Peabody Public Schools, north of Boston, told a local CBS affiliate television station.

The cold was blamed for the deaths of two men in separate incidents in Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A homeless man was found dead on a porch in Charleston, West Virginia, while another man was found dead outside a church in Detroit and police said he may have froze to death, local news outlets reported.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser urged residents to call the city if they saw people outside.

“We want every resident to have shelter and warmth,” she said in a tweet.

Many places across the United States experienced record low temperatures over the last few days. Omaha, Nebraska, posted a low of minus 20F (minus 29C), breaking a 130-year-old record, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, shattered a record set in 1919 with a temperature of minus 32F (minus 36C).

The cold should ease across most of the country after Tuesday, but the northeastern section of the country will see a repeat of the frigid weather on Thursday or Friday as another arctic blast hits the area.

Private AccuWeather forecaster said the cold snap could combine with a storm brewing off the Bahamas to bring snow and high winds to much of the Eastern Seaboard as it heads north on Wednesday and Thursday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Land of the freeze: arctic wave hits U.S. Midwest, Northeast

Trees are seen after the record snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 26, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken December 26, 2017.

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Most of the U.S. Northeast and Midwest grappled with a post-Christmas deep freeze on Thursday, with temperatures expected to plunge as low as minus 20 degrees F (minus 29 C) in North Dakota as forecasters warned that the harsh winter weather could usher in the New Year.

Tioga, about 200 miles (322 km) north of Bismarck, took honors as the coldest spot in the continental United States, according to National Weather Service (NWS) spokesman Bob Oravec. The mercury dived to minus 15 F early on Thursday afternoon.

“By tomorrow morning, low temperatures will probably be 15 to 20 degrees below zero in the northern and northwestern areas of North Dakota, maybe even in north Minnesota,” Oravec said.

On Wednesday, International Falls, Minnesota, about 300 miles north of Minneapolis, lived up to its reputation as the “Icebox of the Nation.” The low temperature there dropped to 37 degrees F below zero, breaking the old record for the day of 32 degrees below, set in 1924. Temperatures moderated to minus 2 F on Thursday.

Mayor Bob Anderson told Reuters that a local paper mill had to reduce operations because of the cold. But he said mail was still being delivered, and the town’s roughly 6,000 weather-hardened residents were taking the cold in stride.

For most of the region encompassing New England, northern Pennsylvania and New York, the NWS issued wind chill advisories or warnings. Temperatures in the region ranged from highs in the teens and 20s F to lows in the single digits or below zero.

For upstate New York, east of Lake Ontario, the NWS warned of “dangerously” cold wind chills of minus 5 F to minus 30 F through Friday. In northern Vermont, conditions are even more brutal, with wind chills threatening to bottom out at minus 40 F.

On Twitter, the hashtag #ItsSoCold was the No. 1 trending topic in the United States on Thursday as social media users expressed their frustration with Old Man Winter.

“When your landlord doesn’t have the heat on during the workweek so the cat sitting in your lap isn’t just cute, but also practical. #ItsSoCold,” wrote user Walton Clark on Twitter.

Erie, a city of about 100,000 on the shores of Lake Erie in northwest Pennsylvania, was expecting a fresh round of winter storms that could bring as much as an additional 10 inches (25 cm) of “lake effect” snow, forecasters said. The area is already buried under more than 65 inches from a record-breaking storm earlier this week.

The accumulations, heavy even by the standards of the Great Lakes’ eastern shores, resulted from a wave of Arctic air moving across the relatively mild waters of the lake, forecasters said.

Light and heavy snow was also expected to fall this weekend in many other parts of the United States, from Montana to Maine, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Erie, Pennsylvania, buried under record snowfall, ” a crippling snow event”

Silas Stueve plays in the snow after two days of record-breaking snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 27, 2017.

By Jon Herskovitz

(Reuters) – A storm that has dumped more than 65 inches (165 cms) of snow this week on Erie, Pennsylvania, is expected to slightly taper off on Wednesday after leaving drifts that buried cars, paralyzed the area and made the county declare an emergency.

A general view of 1925 State Street after the record snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 26, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media.

A general view of 1925 State Street after the record snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 26, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. Courtesy of Instagram @BLJEFFERYS /via REUTERS

But the respite for Erie, a city of about 100,000 in northwest Pennsylvania on the shores of Lake Erie, is expected to be short-lived, with a fresh round of winter storms coming Thursday night predicted to bring as much as 10 inches more snow, forecasters said.

“This is a crippling snow event,” said Zach Sefcovic, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland.

“They are no strangers to snow in that part of the state, but this much snow in that short a time is just unprecedented,” he said in a telephone interview.

Large parts of the United States were gripped by freezing weather, with an area stretching from Montana to Maine expected to see temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12.2 degrees Celsius) early on Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

People help dig out a car from a parking spot after two days of record-breaking snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 27, 2017.

People help dig out a car from a parking spot after two days of record-breaking snowfall in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Robert Frank

The winter blast in Erie was caused by cold Arctic air moving over the lake, which had relatively mild water temperatures, forecasters said.

The storm broke a 59-year-old record for a two-day snowfall in Pennsylvania, topping the 44 inches that fell in 1958. Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper issued a temporary disaster emergency declaration that mobilized resources to help the area.

Pictures of residents on social media showed drifts reaching beyond window-levels in houses and people clearing paths through chest-high accumulations.

“Out of Doritos. Family is arguing. Dogs are getting ornery. It’s been 3 days since my last chicken wing. We are out of whiskey,” wrote Nicole Massari on her Instagram account @theworldaroundnikki, along with a video showing her Pennsylvania home surrounded by snow.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf deployed 21 Pennsylvania National Guard troops along with some all-terrain military vehicles to the region on Tuesday to help residents dig out and transport emergency responders around the area.

Erie resident Brian Sheridan on Wednesday posted a photo on social media showing the top of his mail box peeking out underneath a mound of snow. In a caption, he wrote: “At this point, it just might be easier to put a hold on our mail until spring.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Texas; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Andrew Hay)