Powerful storm hammers eastern United States with heavy snow, wind gusts

residents survey damage of tornado that struck Georgia

(Reuters) – A powerful storm that killed at least 21 people in the southern United States over the weekend was expected on Tuesday to bring heavy snow and wind gusts to the Northeast, causing school closings, treacherous driving conditions and power outages.

The storm, known as a nor’easter, was forecast to bring snowfalls of up to 9 inches (23 cm) along with icy rains and wind gusts of 40 mph (65 kph) to northern Pennsylvania through central New York and into Maine on Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said.

“Only travel in an emergency,” it said in an advisory.

School districts across the region canceled or delayed the start of classes on Tuesday due to the icy road conditions. Local news outlets showed early-morning footage of vehicles covered with a thick glaze of ice and snow-covered roads.

“I didn’t want a snow day but I didn’t want to drive in this mess either,” Lauren Piechota, a teacher in Vermont, said on Twitter.

Flood advisories and watches were also in effect for coastal areas throughout New England until midday as rain totals for the last couple of days were expected to reach 3 inches (8 cm), the weather service said.

About 15,000 customers were without power early on Tuesday morning, according to online reports by utility companies in the region.

“Scattered power outages are expected as the slushy accumulations and ice will weigh down trees and power lines,” the weather service said.

The storm unleashed deadly twisters in Mississippi and Georgia over the weekend before turning cooler as it advanced on the Northeast on Monday and into Tuesday. It was expected to head into Canada by Wednesday, the service said.

The weather system killed 16 people on Sunday in Georgia, according to a tally by the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal extended a state emergency declaration to 16 counties and said President Donald Trump had called him on Sunday and promised he would be “ready and willing to respond” to an expected request for federal disaster relief.

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

North Dakota tribe formally calls on pipeline protesters to disperse

Dakota Access pipeline protest

By Terray Sylvester

CANNON BALL, N.D. (Reuters) – A Sioux tribal council on Saturday formally asked hundreds of protesters to clear out of three camps near its North Dakota reservation used to stage months of sometimes violent protests against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Friday unanimously passed a resolution calling for the camps to be dismantled, it said on its Facebook page on Saturday. The tribe has been encouraging protesters to go home since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to an environmental review of the $3.8 billion project in December.

Despite earlier discussions about alternative sites, the resolution made no provision for relocating the estimated 600 protesters, which include non-native environmental activists and Native Americans from outside the tribe.

“The pipeline fight has moved beyond the camps and our strategy must evolve with the process,” Standing Rock Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said in a statement dated Saturday.

The council said heavy snowfall in the area had raised the danger of flooding, and this week’s clashes with police could imperil the environmental review process.

“Because we worked together, the federal government will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement,” the tribe said. “Moving forward, our ultimate objective is best served by our elected officials, navigating strategically through the administrative and legal processes.”

Native Americans and environmental activists have said that the pipeline would threaten water resources and sacred lands.

The tribe, which launched the effort to stop the pipeline last year, won a major concession when the government denied Energy Transfer Partners an easement for the pipeline to travel under Lake Oahe, a water source upstream from the reservation.

The tribe’s resolution formally called on protesters to leave the area in 30 days, in part because of the potential for environmental damage and safety issues raised by the encampments.

But a former council member said the tribe was also concerned that recent clashes could delay the reopening of a highway linking the reservation to Bismarck, the state capital, an hour’s drive to the north.

“Our main venture that we have on Standing Rock is the Prairie Knights Casino, and Highway 1806 is the main access road,” said Phyllis Young, who currently serves as a consultant to the tribe on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Tensions increased this week near the construction site, with repeated clashes between protesters and police ahead of Friday’s inauguration of President Donald Trump, an unabashed supporter of the project.

Police used tear gas and fired beanbag rounds to disperse crowds, and have arrested nearly 40 people since Monday, law enforcement officials said.

One of the main groups representing protesters in the camp signaled a willingness to abide by the tribe’s resolution.

“Our network respects the decision of the Cannon Ball district and the tribal council of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,” said Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Vacating the camp does not mean abandoning the resistance.”

But Olive Bias, a Cherokee from Colorado who has been at the camps since September, said she expected some people would refuse to leave camp.

“Some will (leave). Others won’t. It’s pretty inevitable,” she said.

(Writing by Frank McGurty, editing by G Crosse)

U.N. alarmed at migrants dying of cold, ‘dire’ situation in Greece

refugee boy rides bike through snow

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Refugees and migrants are dying in Europe’s cold snap and governments must do more to help them rather than pushing them back from borders and subjecting them to violence, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.

“Children are particularly prone to respiratory illnesses at a time like this. It’s about saving lives, not about red tape and keeping to bureaucratic arrangements,” Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “The dire situation right now is Greece.”

UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly cited five deaths so far from cold and said about 1,000 people including children were in unheated tents and dormitories on the Greek island of Samos, calling for them to be transferred to shelter on the mainland.

Hundreds of others had been moved to better accommodation on the islands of Lesbos and Chios in the past few days.

In Serbia, about 80 percent of the 7,300 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are staying in heated government shelters, but 1,200 men were sleeping rough in informal sites in Belgrade.

The bodies of two Iraqi men and a young Somali woman were found close to the Turkish border in Bulgaria and two Somali teenagers were hospitalized with frostbite after five days in a forest, Pouilly said. The body of a young Pakistani man was found along the same border in late December.

A 20-year-old Afghan man died after crossing the Evros River on the Greece-Turkey land border at night when temperatures were below -10 degrees Celsius. The body of a young Pakistani man was found on the Turkish side of the border with Bulgaria.

“Given the harsh winter conditions, we are particularly concerned by reports that authorities in all countries along the Western Balkans route continue to push back refugees and migrants from inside their territory to neighboring countries,” Pouilly said.

Some refugees and migrants said police subjected them to violence and many said their phones were confiscated or destroyed, preventing them from calling for help, she said.

“Some even reported items of clothing being confiscated thus further exposing them to the harsh winter conditions,” she said. “These practices are simply unacceptable and must be stopped.”

Joel Millman, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said migrant movements across the Mediterranean had “started out in a big way” in 2017, and the death toll for the year was already 27.

The World Meteorological Organization said a movement of cold Siberian air into southeastern Europe had driven temperatures in Greece, Italy, Turkey and Romania 5-10 degrees Celsius lower than normal. Such cold outbreaks happen about once in 35 years on average, the WMO said.

(additional reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Storms ease California drought as reservoirs fill up

Vehicles drive on flooded freeway

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Several months of wet weather have dramatically eased California’s years-long drought, replenishing reservoirs and parched aquifers and forcing state water officials to switch – at least temporarily – from managing shortages to avoiding floods.

With rain continuing to fall following a deluge that brought 20 inches (50 cm) of precipitation to some areas this week, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains – crucial for storing water needed in the state’s long, hot summers – is deeper and wetter than normal. Reservoirs were well above normal levels, state and federal drought experts said on Thursday.

“This is the wet winter that makes us cautiously optimistic,” Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources, said on Thursday. “Conditions are improving.”

California has been in the grip of drought for five years, leading farmers to fallow a half-million acres 500,000 acres (200,0000 hectares) of cropland, and forcing some residents to rely on bottled water for drinking.

But the storms that have swept through the state since early autumn have released as much as 42 percent of the state from drought conditions, the U.S. Drought Monitor report said on Thursday, down from less than 3 percent a year ago.

Just 2 percent of the state was experiencing what scientists call “exceptional” drought, the worst category, down from 40 percent two years ago, said the report by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

So much water was coursing through California’s waterways this week that the state’s climatologist, Michael Anderson,

said he was too busy trying to help with flood control operations to talk about the drought on Thursday.

Engineers opened floodgates along the Sacramento River system, drenching low-lying land and sending water coursing into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in part to protect the state capital, Sacramento, said Dave Rizzardo, an expert with the state Department of Water Resources.

A high tide from the Pacific Ocean was expected to swell the delta, which supplies water for 25 million Californians, and engineers were watching for any levee breaches that would affect delta farming and suburban communities near Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, Rizzardo said.

Thomas said, however, the state was not ready to declare the drought finished. He cautioned against putting too much faith in the Drought Monitor data, saying it relied on short-term events such as weather that did not fully reflect California’s water needs.

“It’s not over yet,” Thomas said. “We could go from wet right now to dry for the rest of the winter.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Snow, rain pummel parts of California, Nevada and Oregon

clearing snow from a driveway

(Reuters) – Heavy rain and snowfall hit parts of California, Nevada and Oregon early on Wednesday, causing roads to be closed, schools to cancel classes and widespread flooding along already swollen waterways.

A National Weather Service blizzard warning remained in effect until late on Wednesday morning for ski resort towns in the greater Lake Tahoe area, including Truckee and South Lake Tahoe, California, and neighboring Nevada enclaves of Stateline and Incline Village.

Snow accumulations of 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) were forecast above elevations of 7,000 feet, with fierce wind gusts reaching 100 miles (160 km) per hour along the ridge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the National Weather Service reported.

An avalanche warning was issued for much of the same mountain regions.

“Those venturing outdoors may become lost or disoriented so persons in the warning area are advised to stay indoors,” the weather service said.

Roadways, including Interstate 80 near the border of California and Nevada, were closed on Wednesday morning.

Schools throughout the region canceled Wednesday classes, including the Portland Public Schools district in Oregon, attended by about 50,000 students.

Several flood warnings remained in effect until Wednesday morning for lower elevations in northern and central California and in western Nevada, where creeks and rivers were expected to overrun their banks.

Several communities in the region opened evacuation centers for people who heeded warnings from officials to move to higher ground to avoid flooding.

Heavy downpours sent a wall of mud down onto a house in Fairfax, California, trapping an elderly couple and their two granddaughters, according to local media. Firefighters rescued the couple and children and no one was injured, an ABC affiliate reported.

A series of floodgates on the Sacramento River, just upstream of California’s capital, were opened for the first time in 11 years on Tuesday to divert high water around the city and into a special drainage channel, said Lauren Hersh, a spokeswoman for the state Water Resources Department.

The cascade of rain and snow marked the fourth round of extreme precipitation unleashed during the past month by a weather pattern meteorologists call an “atmospheric river” – a dense plume of moisture flowing from the tropical Pacific into California.

The storms have brought some sorely needed replenishment to many reservoirs left low by five years of drought, while restoring California’s mountain snowpack to 135 percent of its average water-content level for this time of year as of Tuesday, state water officials said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Dominic Evans)

Refugees brave snow, sub-zero temperatures in Greek camps

Syrian refugee boy in the snow

By Karolina Tagaris

RITSONA, Greece (Reuters) – Refugees stranded in Greece suffered sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall on Tuesday at camps not designed for winter weather and the government promised those on one island temporary warm accommodations aboard a navy ship.

A mid-winter icy spell and snowstorms have gripped central and southeastern Europe for days, and parts of Greece have been covered in rare snow with temperatures dipping to -20 degrees Celsius this week. Snow also fell in Athens on Tuesday.

More than 60,000 refugees and migrants have been trapped in Greece since Balkan countries along the main, northward overland route to wealthy western Europe sealed their borders last March. Most now live in overcrowded camps across Greece in abandoned factories or warehouses, or in tents which lack insulation or heating.

“Cold, it’s very cold for children – it’s not like Syria,” said Rostam, a 34-year-old Syrian Kurd who has been living in a camp near the village of Ritsona in eastern Greece near Athens for 10 months with his wife and three young children.

Temperatures hovered at -1 degrees at the camp, a collection shipping containers in a forest where clothes left on hanging on lines outdoors had frozen stiff.

Humanitarian aid organizations, including the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, have pressed Greece to quickly transfer those on freezing, snowbound Aegean islands to the mainland or other European countries.

“The situation is very difficult and especially dangerous for children,” said George Protopapas, Greece director of international organisation SOS Children’s Villages.

“Power outages, freezing temperatures, snow and freezing rain have hampered access to some refugee camps and created very hazardous conditions for all those in temporary shelters.”

Conditions were considerably worse on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos, where more than 5,000 asylum seekers have been waiting for months for their applications to be processed.

Scores of summer tents weighed down by thick snow resembled igloos after several days of icy weather on the island. On Tuesday, the government said it was sending a naval ship to Lesbos to accommodate migrants. It was also scrambling to transfer others to hotels.

“It is important to take immediate measures to ensure that men, women and children are housed in decent accommodation suitable for winter,” the Greek branch of global health charity Medecins du Monde said in a statement.

For some refugees who have been in limbo in Greece for months, things have been worse.

“It’s normal, we’re used to living like this,” said a 25-year-old Syrian who gave his name as Ahmad, one of the first to arrive in the Ritsona camp. “This is not one day or two days, this is 10 months.”

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

More rain, snow forecast as U.S. storm brings floods to California

Flooded street in Calfornia

(Reuters) – Forecasters expect another half foot of rain to soak central and northern California and the Sierra Nevada mountains through early Tuesday, coming on the heels of powerful storms that walloped the state and other parts of the U.S. west on Sunday.

The drenching rains and blowing snow flooded rivers and shut down roads from mudslides in a state that has struggled with drought for years.

From 3 to 8 inches (7.6 to 20 cm) of rain is forecast in the region while several feet (1-2 metres) of snow are likely for higher elevations, said meteorologist Andrew Orrison at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland.

“We’re going to see heavy rain going into (Monday) evening and early morning,” he said.

Heavy snow is expected in Nevada and the northern Rocky Mountains could get several feet of snow over the next day or two.

The weather service said almost 40 rivers or creeks in Northern California and western Nevada were flooded or threatened to top their banks. But an emergency agency spokesman said there had been no reports of fatalities or serious damage.

Authorities said a section of Interstate 80 near Truckee, southwest of Reno, Nevada, was closed by a mudslide.

The upper Napa River north of San Francisco was expected to cause “extreme damage to all towns along the reach,” the California emergency agency said in a statement. Anticipated flooding brought voluntary evacuations in neighboring Sonoma County.

Residents of Cambria, near the famous Hearst Castle along California’s central coast, were advised to move to higher ground due a flash flood warning.

Several other California highways were closed from landslides or high water. In Washington state, high winds, ice and heavy snow shut roads and created hazardous driving conditions.

Iridium Communications said Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company had delayed Monday’s launch of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 of its satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles. The launch was now set for Saturday.

The storm is drawing strength from the interaction between an “atmospheric river,” a plume of water vapor flowing from the tropics toward the West Coast, and a low-pressure area near Oregon, the National Weather Service said.

After years of drought, the storm is the latest in a strong wet season for California that began in the autumn. Another front is expected on Tuesday.

In an encouraging sign, the U.S. Forest Service said the rain had restored moisture levels in Southern California vegetation to a seasonal normal for the first time in five years.

The eastern United States experienced low temperatures on Sunday, the day after a massive storm dumped snow from Georgia to Massachusetts.

(Editing by Chris Michaud)

Snow storm takes aim at U.S. South, Southeast

Semi truck driver removes chains from truck

(Reuters) – A winter storm packing heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain is on track for the U.S. South and Southeast where roads may become impassable and power outages are possible starting on Friday and into the weekend, forecasters said.

A large swath of the United States, from Louisiana northeast through the Appalachian Mountains and into southern Pennsylvania, is expected to get as much as 8 inches (20 cm) of snow with 1 inch (3 cm) of sleet, according to the National Weather Service.

“If you don’t have to travel, don’t travel,” said Matthew Grantham, a NWS meteorologist in Alabama, adding that conditions were expected to worsen after dark on Friday.

A weather warning was in effect until Saturday afternoon for most of North Carolina along with northwest South Carolina and northern Georgia where heavy snow, freezing temperatures and wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour (40 kph) were expected.

“The heavy snow will make many roads impassable and may produce widespread power outages,” the weather service said.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 79 counties and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued a state of emergency for his entire state.

The poor weather forced the postponement of the inauguration events that were scheduled over the weekend for North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, who was elected in November.

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

Record snow and rain stretches across parched U.S. west

(Reuters) – Record snow and rain pummeled the western United States on Thursday, raising the threat of floods and freezing temperatures in some areas across the region, weather officials said.

Winter storm warnings were in effect in parts of California, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah following days of snowfall and cold.

California, where a five-year drought has triggered dozens of wildfires, was bracing for floods after heavy rainfall earlier in the week. Rivers are expected to overflow in northern and central parts of the state at a rate last seen in December 2005, the National Weather Service said.

Snow in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which provides a critical source of water for California and has receded in recent years, is forecast to be twice the monthly average for January.

Snowstorms battered Oregon, which was in the grips of a moderate drought last year, prompting the closure of highways and schools.

In Medford, Oregon, a winter storm dumped more than eight inches of snow in a single day, the most the city has recorded over a 24-hour period in nearly a century, KTVL News 10 reported.

The Oregon State Police reported that its field office, located about 50 miles southeast of Portland, was buried under at least five feet of snow.

An 8-year-old girl was killed in the coastal area of Otis, Oregon, when a storm bringing high winds and snow caused a tree to crash onto her home earlier in the week, CBS reported.

In Boise, the capital city in the northwestern state of Idaho, 6.5 inches of snow fell on Wednesday, the most ever recorded on that date, the Weather Service said. Snow depth in the area was 15 inches, another record, it said.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Storms that pounded U.S. South seen easing leaving 5 dead

National Weather Service forecast map for January 3rd, 2017

(Reuters) – A severe storm system that left five people dead in the U.S. South is expected to weaken significantly on Tuesday, bringing only light rainfall along the East Coast, officials said.

The storms eased a day after strong winds from what is believed to have been a tornado killed four people in southeast Alabama, and a man was found drowned in floodwater in northwest Florida, state officials said.

“The threat of severe weather is much lower today,” meteorologist Bob Oravec of the Weather Prediction Center said by telephone.

Between half an inch and an inch (1.3 to 2.5 cm) of rain was expected to fall along the East Coast on Tuesday, including in Washington D.C. and in parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, Oravec said.

The rainfall threat was diminishing as the storm moved out of the South toward the U.S. Northeast, he said.

Unlike on Monday, when 3 to 5 inches (7.6 to 12.7 cm) of rain soaked parts of the U.S. South, causing flooding in some areas, no major floods were expected along the East Coast.

“Without a doubt it will be quieter” than on Monday, John Hart, a meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center, said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Mark Heinrich)