After weird winter, U.S. forecasters see warm, wet spring

A couple embraces in front of an ice-covered fountain in Bryant Park in New York City, U.S.

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – If you liked the balmy weather that dominated on the U.S. East Coast and much of the South this winter, you will probably enjoy the spring of 2017, too.

The new season, which officially begins on Monday, should bring more of the same in both regions, forecasters say, though for the East, a final twist of winter weirdness will have to play out before the region basks in the warmth again.

Spring, which starts with the vernal equinox at 6:28 a.m. EDT on Monday, will begin warmly but Wednesday’s temperatures are predicted to plunge into the 20s (-1 to -6 Celsius) and teens in the U.S. Northeast, with a snowstorm possible in the Midwest, according to Accuweather.com.

After the warmest February on record in New York City and other parts of the Northeast, winter returned with a vengeance last week with a paralyzing snowstorm and sustained stretch of sub-freezing temperatures.

“That was our three days of winter,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In New York, where pedestrians are still navigating deep piles of snow and ice, the mercury was expected to dip below the freezing mark overnight and then climb to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) on the first day of spring.

“Hang tight, bear with it, because our forecast for spring is above-average temperatures,” Gottschalck said.

That may come as cold comfort for the nation’s capital. Last week’s cold snap annihilated half of the pink-and-white cherry blossoms that typically draw 1.5 million tourists to Washington in early April. Lured to an early bloom by historic warmth, they were dangerously exposed, said National Park Service officials, who soldiered on with a festival celebrating survivors expected to reach peak bloom around March 25.

While the East Coast luxuriated in the mild temperatures, and Texas and Louisiana had the warmest winter in more than a century, the West Coast enjoyed a welcome stretch of wet weather after years of drought.

Nevada and Wyoming set records for precipitation, while California had the second wettest winter in the 123 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

Temperatures for April, May and June were expected to be above normal in the Southern Plains, lower Mississippi Valley and the East Coast, said NOAA meteorologist Dan Petersen. For the West Coast, the long-range forecast was still unclear.

But NOAA is calling for a wetter-than-normal spring on the Gulf Coast and in the Northern Plains, where above-average snowfall in North Dakota and Idaho could trigger flooding.

On the final day of winter, almost 110,000 animal lovers worldwide remained glued to a YouTube streaming video of a pregnant giraffe named “April,” who is overdue to give birth at Animal Adventure Park in upstate New York.

Much more of a wait may mean a spring birth amid winter temperatures.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler)

Late-season snowstorm weakens in the Northeast

Residents clear their cars and street of snow in Weehawken, New Jersey, as the One World Trade Center and lower Manhattan are seen after a snowstorm in New York, U.S. March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

(Reuters) – A late-season snowstorm that swept the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States began to weaken on Wednesday after killing six people, grounding thousands of flights and closing schools.

Still, millions of people on the East Coast faced temperatures 10 to 25 degrees below average, wind gusts of 30 mph (50 kph) and slick roads and sidewalks as they returned to work and classes on Wednesday.

“Residual snow and slush will refreeze early this morning, resulting in hazardous conditions,” the National Weather Service said in an advisory, urging those who ventured out early to use extra caution.

The rare mid-March “nor’easter” was tapering off over upstate New York and northern New England after dumping as much as a foot (30 cm) of snow with gale-force winds throughout the region on Tuesday, the weather service said.

As life returns to normal for many, students in Boston Public Schools will have the day off while the city and surrounding area continue to dig out from heavy snowfall.

Amtrak said its trains would operate on a modified schedule between New York City and Boston and between New York City and Albany on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, snow fell from the lower Great Lakes and central Appalachians to the Eastern Seaboard and as far south as North Carolina.

Some cities, such as Washington, D.C., and New York, got just a few inches of snow, far less than the anticipated amounts that forced public officials to close schools, stop commuter trains and warn people to stay indoors on Tuesday.

Governors in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia declared states of emergency before the storm.

“Mother Nature is an unpredictable lady sometimes,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference on Tuesday. “She was unpredictable today.” More than 6,000 commercial airline flights across the United States were canceled for the day, said tracking service FlightAware.com. Utility companies said more than 220,000 homes and businesses were without power at the storm’s peak.

Six weather-related fatalities included the death of a 16-year-old girl in a single-car crash in Gilford, New Hampshire, according to the city police department.

A snowplow driver was killed in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, local police said, and four older people died clearing snow in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, the local medical examiner said.

The storm capped an unusually mild winter, with otherwise below-normal snowfall on much of the Atlantic coast.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

California’s desert blooms as drought comes to an end

A massive spring wildflower bloom caused by a wet winter is seen in Lake Elsinore, California, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

LAKE ELSINORE, California (Reuters) – Southern California’s deserts and hillsides are ablaze with color after a wet winter spurred what scientists say is the biggest wildflower bloom in years.

Golden California poppies, the state’s flower, blanket hillsides along busy high-desert roads and freeways around Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, the desert blooms with purple Canterbury Bells, red Monkey Flower, white Desert Lily and more poppies.

“Plentiful rains in December, January and February have encouraged the development of a spectacular showing of annual plants in the flower fields north of town, along trails in western canyons, and even in the badlands,” naturalists wrote on Anza-Borrego’s website.

Before the state’s devastating five-year drought, Southern California families often made an annual trek to see wildflowers at Anza-Borrego and other destinations – some as close as a freeway exit in the high desert. Now that storms have replenished dry desert land, the tradition has returned in force.

So many people are visiting Anza-Borrego, the state’s largest park, that officials on Tuesday warned of traffic jams and urged flower-lovers to bring plenty of water to avoid dehydration in the hot, dry weather expected this week.

On the steep hillsides of Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, people snapped pictures of wildflowers and gathered blooms as they strolled through the gently waving sea of color. Children played and dogs romped through the high stands of poppies as traffic whizzed by on the freeway below.

(Reporting by Alan Devall in Lake Elsinore, California and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Blizzard dumps snow on Hawaii, California set for record winter rain

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – As California edged toward historic rainfall totals in one of the wettest winters in memory, its neighbor state across the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii, has been hit with sustained blizzard conditions that have dumped 8 inches of snow onto mountain peaks.

Snow is not unheard of for the higher mountains of Hawaii, which reach above 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) in elevation, but weather experts say this week’s storm was particularly strong and lingered over the state, delivering a heavier than usual punch.

“The reason for the snow amounts being heavier than we usually see is that the upper low (pressure system) really persisted down there, that has allowed colder air to remain locked in place,” said Andrew Orrison of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

But the blizzard conditions in a state normally thought of as a tropical paradise have made national headlines, accompanied by pictures of snow-capped Hawaiian mountain peaks.

In California, meanwhile, heavy rains have swollen rivers and reservoirs and blanketed the Sierra Nevada mountains with twice as much snow as usual this winter, helping power the state out of five years of severe drought.Orrison said with winter not yet over the state was already among the top two to three seasons on record for snow and rainfall in Northern California.

“Right now we’re looking at potentially an all-time record for rainfall and you have to go back to the winter of 1982-83 for snow pack being as deep as it is.”

He said that while there was still some “lingering concern” for Southern California, which has not had as much snow and rain, the northern and central part of the state were no longer considered to be in a drought.

“It’s a very good story to have and there has just been substantial improvement, even in Southern California,” Orrison said.

On Thursday, the National Drought Mitigation Center said that less than 10 percent of the state remained in drought – the lowest amount since 2011.

By comparison, on the same day last year more than 95 percent of the state was in the throes of an unprecedented, five-year drought that led farmers to fallow fields and cost billions to the economy.

Forecasters said it was too early to predict what could be in store next winter, although there were some preliminary indications of a so-called El Nino climate pattern that warms the ocean and typically brings more rain and snow to California.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by David Gregorio)

California faces more rain, snow as deadly storm moves south

People with umbrellas walk along street in Los Angeles

(Reuters) – California was bracing on Saturday for another wave of torrential rain as well as heavy snow as a massive storm triggered flooding, mudslides and power outages and killed two people, officials said.

The National Weather Service warned that rain totals could reach 10 inches (25 cm) in parts of southern California and 2 feet (60 cm) of snow in higher areas to the east as the storm continues to roll through the region.

The severe storm has brought California its heaviest rainfall in six years and comes after months of wet weather that has dramatically eased a years-long drought in the key agricultural state.

The rain and melting snowpack also are threatening to undermine a spillway at one of the largest dams in the country. Some 188,000 residents were evacuated from the area earlier this week.

Utility crews were working to restore electricity to more than 78,000 customers affected by power outages throughout the Los Angeles area.

Early on Saturday, an evacuation order remained in effect for 180 homes in Duarte, a city about 20 miles (32 km) east of Los Angeles, because of fears of mudslides.

One man died after he was electrocuted by a downed wire, the Los Angeles Fire Department said, adding that it had responded to 150 reports of downed wires on Friday. Another person was found dead in a submerged vehicle in Victorville, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, fire officials said on Twitter.

A woman was injured when the car she was in fell into a 20-foot sinkhole in Studio City on Friday night. A second car fell into the sinkhole after the woman was rescued, an ABC affiliate reported.

Local television news also showed video footage of a San Bernardino County fire truck tumbling over the side of a freeway as the road gave out.

“All firefighters confirmed safe. The lane under the fire engine has failed, and the engine has gone over the side,” the San Bernardino County Fire Department said on Twitter.

Amtrak railroad service was suspended for trains between the cities of Oxnard and San Luis Obispo in the central and southern areas of the state due to extreme weather conditions, according to the transportation service’s website.

In higher areas of eastern California and western Nevada, snowfall and wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph) were in the forecast until Saturday night, the National Weather Service said.

“This will make travel hazardous or impossible,” the service said in an advisory.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee Editing by Ed Osmond and Paul Simao)

Storm to dump heavy rain and snow on U.S. West

warning sign

(Reuters) – A major storm packing intense rain and heavy snow and winds will pound California and southern Oregon on Friday and through the weekend, forecasters said.

The National Weather Service said the system is expected to dump as much as 10 inches (25 cm) of rain at a rate of 1 inch (3 cm) per hour in parts of southern California on Friday.

“This looks to be the strongest storm to hit southwest California this season,” the service said, adding that rainfall totals could be the highest in the area over the last six years.

The downpours in heavily populated counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles where wildfires recently burned could create the risk of mud and debris flows, the weather service said.

“There will likely be widespread urban roadway flooding,” it said. “There will also be a significant threat of rock and mudslides, especially near canyon roadways.”

Rain was also forecast for northern California and southern Oregon, where the weather service issued a flood warning until Friday afternoon.

In areas of higher elevations in eastern California and western Nevada, as much as 2 feet (60 cm) of snow could cause whiteout conditions, forecasters said.

The area should also expect winds gusts of 75 mph (120 kph), potentially causing widespread power outages on Friday and Saturday, the service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by John Stonestreet)

Flights canceled, roads hazardous as winter storm pummels New England

A man clears snow off his vehicle following a winter snow storm in Somerville,

BOSTON (Reuters) – Hundreds of flights were canceled, scores of vehicle crashes reported and schools and government offices shuttered as the third winter storm in five days slammed New England on Monday.

Government offices were closed throughout Maine, with much of the state’s coast expecting to see 18 inches to 24 inches (46-61 cm) of snow by the day’s end, according to the National Weather Service.

“Travel conditions are expected to remain treacherous throughout Monday,” said Maine Governor Paul LePage. “Stay off the roads and avoid traveling unless it is an absolute emergency.”

Substantially less snow fell further south, though wind gusts of up to 55 miles per hour (89 kph) threatened to down tree limbs and power lines, forecasters warned.

Courts were closed throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts, prompting a one-day delay in the start of jury selection for the double murder trial of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez.

Some 675 U.S. flights were canceled on Monday, with Boston’s Logan International Airport the hardest hit with more than one of every five flights called off, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

Residents dig out following a winter snow storm in the Boston suburb of Wakefield, Massachusetts, U.S.

Residents dig out following a winter snow storm in the Boston suburb of Wakefield, Massachusetts, U.S. February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

At least one storm-related death was reported in Bedford, Massachusetts, about 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Boston, where a 60-year-old man died after he was struck and killed by a snowplow in the parking lot of the Veterans Administration hospital where he lived, police said.

The recent flurry of snowstorms follows a winter that has been mild throughout New England.

National Weather Service data on Monday showed that even with the most recent snowfall, Boston had recorded just 32.4 inches (82 cm) of snow so far this year.

That’s less than half the amount the city had experienced by this time of year in the record-setting winter of 2014-2015, when more than 9 feet (2.74 m) of snow fell and some snowbanks lingered on until the summer.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Two die as winter storm wallops northeastern United States

Pedestrians walk in Times Square as heavy snow falls

By Scott Malone and Jonathan Allen

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The fiercest snowstorm of the winter slammed the northeastern United States on Thursday, leaving a foot (30 cm) of snow in places, canceling thousands of flights and shutting down schools. At least two deaths were blamed on the storm.

The storm, which came a day after temperatures had been a spring-like 50 to 60 degrees (10 to 16C), had wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour (80 kph) and left roads and sidewalks dangerously slick in densely populated cities such as New York, Boston and Hartford, Connecticut.

The storm’s winds reached as far south as Virginia, where a truck driver died after his tractor-trailer was blown off the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Tom Anderson, the facility’s deputy director, said in a phone interview.

A New York City doorman died while shoveling snow as he slipped and fell down a flight of stairs, crashing into a window that cut his neck, police reported.

Some areas experienced “thunder snow,” violent bursts of weather featuring both snow and lightning.

Nearly two-thirds of the flights into or out of the three major New York-area airports were canceled, as were 69 percent of those at Boston Logan International Airport, according to Flightaware.com.

Nationwide, about 4,000 flights were canceled and 5,700 delayed.

“The roads are dangerous,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters. “I don’t care if you have a four-wheel-drive car and you think you’re a super hero … if you don’t have to be out, don’t be out.”

David Hassan, 50, attested to the ugliness of the weather as he packed up his mobile coffee cart in New York’s Times Square.

“I don’t like coming out in this weather but I have three kids going to school and I have to work,” Hassan said as he prepared for the two-hour trip back to his home in Parsippany, New Jersey.

New York received about a foot of snow, while Boston was braced for up to 20 inches.

Many schools systems were closed in the area, and Boston schools would remain closed on Friday, Mayor Marty Walsh said.

Many government offices also were shuttered with Massachusetts and Connecticut ordering non-emergency workers to stay home.

Blizzard warnings were in effect for the New York’s eastern Long Island suburbs, southern Connecticut and Rhode Island, as well as the Massachusetts coast.

Temperatures were expected to fall to single-digit Fahrenheit levels overnight in the Boston area.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus and Daniel Trotta in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Providence, Rhode Island; Editing by Larry King and Bill Trott)

A foot of snow, icy cold forecast for northeastern U.S.

woman walks through snow in New York City

By Scott Malone and Joseph Ax

BOSTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The heaviest storm the northeastern United States has seen this year was bearing down on the region on Thursday, forcing schools in major cities to cancel classes and airlines to ground thousands of flights.

Forecasters predicted the storm could bring more than a foot (30 cm) of snow and wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour (80 kph) from Pennsylvania through Maine.

New York City schools, the largest public school system in the United States, with more than 1 million students, canceled classes on Thursday. So did districts in Boston and Philadelphia.

More than 2,700 flights in and out of the region were also canceled, according to Flightaware.com, as airlines told passengers to check the status of their flights before heading to the airport.

Blizzard warnings were in effect for the eastern end of New York’s Long Island, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and the island of Nantucket.

“Early start. Getting Ready to go out and battle the snow storm so that I can do what I need to do,” tweeted IT professional Andy Quayle in New York City.

With the storm expected to dump as much as to three inches (8 cm) per hour and start before the morning rush hour and last into the evening, mayors of major cities, including New York and Boston, warned residents to stay off the roads.

“Visibilities will become poor with whiteout conditions at times. Those venturing outdoors may become lost or disoriented. So persons in the warning area are strongly advised to stay indoors,” the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

Temperatures were expected to fall to single-digit Fahrenheit levels (below -12.8°C) overnight in the Boston area.

The forecast comes a day after much of the northeast saw spring-like weather, with temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 16°C).

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, you know, what feels like a summer day, almost, now, and then tomorrow a blizzard,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told WCBS-AM radio. “But it’s going to be a blizzard and New Yorkers should get ready.”

While temperatures had been mild for much of the region on Wednesday, New England highways were clogged with scores of car crashes that morning after an early rain storm coated roads in ice. At least one person was killed in Massachusetts when he was struck by a car as he tried to help another motorist..

“We want people to stay indoors as much as possible,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh told reporters on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Scott Malone, editing by Larry King)

Islamic State suspected of killing six Afghan Red Cross workers: officials

Logo of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Courtesy of Wiki Commons

By Bashir Ansari

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Islamic State gunmen were suspected of killing at least six Afghan employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Wednesday as they carried supplies to areas in the north of the country hit by deadly snow storms, government officials said.

Another two employees were unaccounted for after the attack in Afghanistan’s Jowzjan province, ICRC said, but the aid group did not know who was responsible or why the convoy was targeted.

“This is a despicable act. Nothing can justify the murder of our colleagues and dear friends,” the head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan, Monica Zanarelli, said in a statement.

The aid workers were in a convoy carrying supplies to areas hit by snow storms when they were attacked by suspected Islamic State gunmen, Lotfullah Azizi, the Jowzjan provincial governor, told Reuters.

“Daesh is very active in that area,” he said, using an alternate name for Islamic State, which has made limited inroads in Afghanistan but has carried out increasingly deadly attacks.

A storm dumped as much as two meters (6.5 feet) of snow on many areas of Afghanistan over the weekend, according to officials, killing more than 100 people.

Three drivers and five field officers were on their way to deliver livestock materials to those affected by the snow storms when they were attacked, the ICRC statement said.

“These staff members were simply doing their duty, selflessly trying to help and support the local community,” ICRC president Peter Maurer said.

SEARCH OPERATION

Jawzjan police chief Rahmatullah Turkistani said the workers’ bodies had been brought to the provincial capital and a search operation launched to find the two missing ICRC employees.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said his group was not involved in the attack and promised that Taliban members would “put all their efforts into finding the perpetrators”.

Last month, a Spanish ICRC employee was released less than a month after he was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in northern Afghanistan.

That staff member was traveling with three Afghan colleagues between Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz on Dec. 19 when gunmen stopped the vehicles.

The other Afghan ICRC staff were immediately released.

In a recent summary of its work in Afghanistan last year, the ICRC said increasing security issues had made it difficult to provide aid to many parts of the country.

“Despite it all, the ICRC has remained true to its commitment to the people of Afghanistan, as it has throughout the last 30 years of its continuous presence in the country,” the statement said.

Zanarelli said it was still not clear how the deadly attack might change ICRC operations.

(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Josh Smith in Kabul; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ken Ferris)