Deadly winter storm delays travel in U.S. Midwest, Northeast

Weather conditions for winter storm 2-6-18 National Weather Service

(Reuters) – A winter storm will dump snow and freezing rain on the U.S. Midwest and the Northeast beginning on Tuesday after it caused several deaths as it snarled highways and spurred the cancellation of hundreds of flights at Chicago’s main airport.

The National Weather Service warned commuters in northern Texas, east through southern Illinois and Indiana, and New York and Massachusetts, to watch for icy road conditions, wind gusts and reduced visibility throughout the day and into Wednesday.

“The ice and snow will result in difficult travel conditions,” the NWS said in an advisory. “Motorists are strongly urged to slow down and allow plenty of time to reach their destinations.”

Winds of 40-miles an hour(65 kph) and as much as 4 inches (10 cm) of snow are expected across the affected regions, with parts of New York and Vermont getting as much as a foot of snow, the NWS said.

The storm was responsible for the death of six people on Monday in crashes throughout Iowa, the Des Moines Register reported.

Two people also died in southwest Missouri and more than 70 others were injured after icy roads caused a high number of crashes, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

At Chicago’s busy O’Hare International Airport, the storm caused the cancellation of more than 460 flights, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Thaw on the way in southern United States

National Weather Service High and Low Temperature Map 1-19-18

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Commuters in the southern United States will wake up to more frigid temperatures and slick roads Friday, but a thaw is expected by the weekend, forecasters say.

Many schools in Atlanta, northeastern Georgia and western North Carolina remained closed Friday after a mid-week storm dumped snow across the region, whipped up winds that snapped power lines and led to at least a dozen deaths.

Sub-freezing temperatures overnight left many roads with ice that is difficult for drivers to detect, but that’s expected to melt soon, said Laura Belanger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Atlanta.

“We’re looking at a warm-up for the southeast and mid-Atlantic with daytime temperatures up in the 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit) and hitting the low 60s in some areas by Saturday,” Belanger said.

Areas as far north as Boston will inch up to the low 40s (Fahrenheit) but dip below freezing at night, she said adding, “This is still winter.”

Through the early morning hours, NWS freeze warnings remained in effect over much of the Deep South as far as Tampa, Florida.

The winter storm sent blasts of cold air as far south as Mississippi, Lousiana, Texas and Oklahoma.

In Houston, 22-year-old Cynthia Chavez said she walked on ice for the first time in her life on Wednesday, and fell on her second step.

“I was, like, coming out of our house and there was a little step and what I thought was water,” Chavez said by phone from Olde Towne Kolaches in Houston where she is a cashier. “Two steps and I was on my butt. At first, I was nervous but then I was like, ah, THIS is ice.”

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

In Virginia on Thursday, a six-year-old boy on a sled slid onto a road and was struck and killed by a car, CBS affiliate WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, reported.

On Thursday in North Carolina’s Washington County, a 26-year-old man was killed when his vehicle went off a snowy road and overturned in a canal, officials said.

In Oklahoma, two people died on Wednesday in a fire apparently caused by the use of electrical space heaters, media reported.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Larry King)

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)

South Carolina capital could be first U.S. city to ban gun bump stocks

An example of a bump stock that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate is seen at Good Guys Gun Shop in Orem, Utah, U.S. on October 4, 2017.

By Harriet McLeod

(Reuters) – South Carolina’s capital on Tuesday could become the first U.S. city to ban the use of bump stocks, a gun accessory that has drawn national scrutiny after being found among the Las Vegas mass shooter’s arsenal of weapons in the October rampage.

Last month, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a law that explicitly bans bump stocks.

Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, the South Carolina capital, said the city council was expected in a vote on Tuesday night to approve an ordinance barring the devices, which allow semiautomatic rifles to fire hundreds of rounds a minute like fully automatic machine guns.

“One of the common refrains that you hear, whether it was in Texas or Vegas or Sandy Hook, is that a good guy with a gun could have stopped the carnage,” Benjamin, a Democrat, said in a phone interview on Monday. “It’s time for the good guys with guns to begin to pass some really good policy.”

Authorities said Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock had 12 rifles outfitted with bump stocks in the hotel room where he launched his attack on an outdoor concert, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Since then several states and cities have proposed measures outlawing or restricting the attachments, and the U.S. Justice Department said earlier this month it was considering a ban on certain bump stocks.

California and New York do not prohibit bump stocks outright, but the devices fall under the definition of an automatic weapon, which are illegal in those states, according to Anne Teigen, who covers firearm legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some other states and the District of Columbia have assault weapons bans that could include bump stocks.

“We are not aware of any cities that have passed ordinancesbanning bump stocks,” said Tom Martin, a spokesman for the National League of Cities.

In Columbia, four of the council’s six members approved the city’s proposed ordinance on a first reading earlier this month.

The measure also would ban the use of other gun attachments that allow rifles to fire faster. Owners would be required to keep them stored separately from any weapon.

Trigger-enhancing devices are not gun parts, gun components, weapons or ammunition, which state law prohibits cities from regulating, Benjamin said.

The mayor, who has a background in law enforcement and said he owns guns, said the measure had drawn support from local police and council members who support the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protecting gun ownership rights.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)

Hurricane Harvey makes Houston reassess growth-friendly policies

Hurricane Harvey makes Houston reassess growth-friendly policies

By Andy Sullivan

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Melinda and Joel Loshak raised two children in a stylish ranch house in Houston’s upscale Meyerland neighborhood and planned to retire there. Now they are hoping the government will knock it down.

After Hurricane Harvey pushed oily floodwaters into their house in August, the Loshaks asked local officials to buy them out, joining more than 3,000 other Houston-area homeowners who grew weary of ripping out waterlogged drywall and ruined refrigerators after three devastating floods in three years.

“I call the house my albatross. It just follows us; it’s hanging from our necks, pulling us down,” said Melinda Loshak, 61.

The buyout program is just one way Houston hopes to better protect itself against future floods. But even as the city prepares to demolish thousands of homes in low-lying areas, developers are putting up hundreds more.

Experts and some elected officials say the region needs to take a hard look at the growth-friendly policies that have increased the risk of flooding even as they have helped keep housing affordable in the United States’ fourth-largest city.

“There’s no indication that we’re going to do anything philosophically different,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental law professor at Rice University. “With a few modifications, it’s business as usual.”

As Houston rebuilds from the most expensive hurricane in U.S. history, local officials plan to dredge waterways, build new reservoirs and a coastal barrier to protect against storms that experts say are growing in intensity due to a warming climate. They have asked Washington for $61 billion to pay for it all.

Some local leaders, such as Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, have called for development rules to be tightened and for new taxes to fund flood defenses.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently said his government would take a closer look at development projects.

But that has not stopped one developer from moving ahead with plans to build 900 houses on a former golf course in a flood zone. Local activists say it is a prime example of runaway development that will make flooding worse.

“That water now doesn’t have a place to go, and it has to go somewhere else – more likely into older neighborhoods that may or may not have flooded prior to this,” said Ed Browne, chairman of a grassroots group called Citizens Against Flooding. “It’s incredibly unfair to allow this to happen.”

Developer Meritage Homes says the project includes bigger retention ponds than are required by law to stop stormwater spilling into the surrounding community. The development “will have zero negative impact on downstream flooding,” the company said in a statement.

Since 2010, more than 7,000 homes have been built in flood zones in Harris County, which includes Houston, according to a ProPublica/Texas Tribune investigation.

Some developers say they are willing to consider tougher guidelines – up to a point.

“Any time you have a big storm like this, it’s not a bad idea to look and make sure you have the right answers,” said Augie Campbell, president of the West Houston Association, a local business group. “It’s just important that you don’t rush to judgment too quickly.”

In the meantime, Harris County officials have allocated $20 million to buy 200 homes that flooded during Harvey and are asking the federal government for another $800 million, which would let them purchase another 5,000 houses.

Some 3,636 residents have applied for the buyouts, Harris County Flood Control District spokeswoman Karen Hastings said.

The money, if it wins approval from Congress, is not likely to come through for months.

Meanwhile, the Loshaks have torn out the waterlogged kitchen cabinets they installed after their house flooded for the first time, back in 2015. They have plugged in dehumidifiers and fans to fend off mold. They do not want to have to rebuild again.

“I just would like it to be gone, because it’s so stressful and depressing to see the house and see the neighborhood and know that it’s just going to happen over and over again,” Melinda Loshak said.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)

Man charged with murder in fatal shooting of Texas trooper

Man charged with murder in fatal shooting of Texas trooper

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A man accused of shooting and killing a Texas state trooper during a traffic stop on Thanksgiving was charged with capital murder, which can bring the death penalty, jail records posted on Friday showed.

Dabrett Black, 32, is suspected of killing Trooper Damon Allen on Thursday in Fairfield, about 90 miles (145 km) south of Dallas, Lieutenant Lonny Haschel, a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesman, said in a statement.

Allen had stopped the suspect for a traffic violation and when he returned to his patrol car, the suspect fired multiple times with a rifle at Allen, who died at the scene, Haschel said.

“The tragic death of Trooper Damon Allen is a sad and sobering reminder of the risks our men and women in uniform take every day,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement on Friday as he ordered Texas flags at DPS facilities to be lowered to half-staff.

Allen, 41, was a husband and father of three who joined the department in 2002, the department said.

Black, 32, was arrested in Waller County, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, after a brief shootout, local law enforcement said.

He is being held in a county jail and there was no lawyer listed for him on booking records. Police have not released a motive for the killing.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Texas state trooper shot dead, suspect arrested after manhunt

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – A Texas state trooper was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Thanksgiving Day, leading to a manhunt and further gunfire some 125 miles (200 km) away, where the suspect was arrested.

The fatal shooting took place on Thursday in Fairfield, about 90 miles (145 km) south of Dallas, where highway patrol trooper Damon Allen had stopped the suspect for a traffic violation and made contact with the driver, a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesman said.

When Allen returned to his patrol car, the suspect fired multiple times with a rifle, killing the trooper at the scene, Lieutenant Lonny Haschel said in a statement.

Allen, 41, was a husband and father of three who joined the department in 2002, the department said.

“Our DPS family is heartbroken tonight after one of Texas’ finest law enforcement officers was killed in the line of duty,” DPS Director Steven McCraw said in a statement.

“Trooper Allen’s dedication to duty, and his bravery and selfless sacrifice on this Thanksgiving Day, will never be forgotten,” McCraw said.

The suspect, identified as Dabrett Black, 32, was arrested in Waller County, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, after unspecified shots had been fired, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook.

DPS officials said they would file capital murder charges against Black, meaning prosecutors could potentially seek the death penalty in a state that has executed 518 people in the past 38 years.

In Waller County, sheriff’s deputies and a Texas DPS helicopter pursued the suspect, the sheriff’s office said.

At one point the suspect abandoned his car and deputies surrounded him near the town of Prairie View, according to a live police radio dispatch carried on broadcastify.com.

Deputies described their pursuit using night-vision goggles and lasers to pinpoint his position.

“He’s moving between the hay bails. He has good cover. He has good concealment,” one officer said.

They were uncertain whether he was still armed with a rifle and maintained a perimeter until a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team could arrive, according to the police radio.

“We got this guy. We’ve got eyeballs on him. Let’s take our time and get him on our terms, not on his terms,” another officer said.

Deputies then went to radio silence as they moved in for the arrest, a silence that was broken by, “Can we confirm one in custody?”

“One in custody,” came the reply.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney and Richard Borsuk)

Houston-area woman charged with mailing explosives to Obama, Texas governor

Houston-area woman charged with mailing explosives to Obama, Texas governor

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A Houston-area woman has been charged with mailing booby-trapped packages designed to explode to former U.S. President Barack Obama, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and a federal office in Maryland.

Julia Poff, 46, was ordered held in jail last week ahead of trial after she was indicted on charges of mailing packages last year that were designed to kill, transporting explosives and other criminal counts, court documents showed.

“Poff presents a real safety risk to witnesses and others in the community,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy wrote in a five-page order outlining the case.

Poff, who was charged earlier this month and pleaded not guilty last week, reached out to the Houston Chronicle to defend herself, the newspaper reported on its website on Thursday.

Poff told the Chronicle that investigators had taken trash from her home. The trash was “used in some serious crimes that we did not commit and know nothing about,” she was quoted as saying.

It was not clear whom Poff was referring to as “we.”

An explosive-laden package mailed to Obama in October 2016, while he was still in office, contained hair that an FBI crime lab matched to one of Poff’s cats, the judge wrote in the detention order.

Poff is said to have expressed dislike for Obama, who is a Democrat, according to the order. Packages sent to Obama and the U.S. Social Security Administration in Maryland were both stopped in screening, according to Houston TV station KPRC.

In October 2016, Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, opened a third package that also was rigged to explode, but it failed to detonate.

The judge’s detention order said Poff was upset with Abbott because she believed that in his previous role as state attorney general, he played a part in her inability to receive support from her ex-husband.

It was unclear what type of support Poff might have sought. The state attorney general’s office has a division that handles requests for child support after a divorce or separation.

The packages sent to Obama, the Social Security Administration and Abbott contained pyrotechnic powder, and investigators found a large amount of fireworks at Poff’s home in Brookshire, west of Houston, the court order said.

Poff is represented by a public defender, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

She is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on Jan. 2.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Cooney)

Border Patrol attack leaves one agent dead, another seriously injured

picture of area in Culberson county, Texas

By Kami Klein

A U.S. Border Patrol agent and his partner were attacked in the Big Bend Sector of Culberson County in Texas.  Agent Rogelio Martinez died this morning from his injuries sustained in the attack,while his partner,who has not been identified, is still hospitalized in serious condition.  According to press releases, there was no gunfire involved in the incident.  Both men sustained blunt force trauma to the head.

Agent Martinez, 36 had been a border patrol agent since August 2013.  He and his partner were responding to activity while on patrol near interstate 10 in the Van Horn station area. The region’s mountains and the Rio Grande do not offer the best crossing opportunities for illegal immigrants crossing into the United States from Mexico.  The Border Patrol records show that the Big Bend area only accounted for only about  1 percent of the more than 61,000 apprehensions that have been made along the Southwest border from October 2016 to May 2016..

map of Culberson County Texas

map of Culberson County Texas

After the attack, Agent Martinez’s partner was able to report that they were both injured and needed assistance.  When discovered, the two were transported to a local hospital.  Border Patrol agents and the Culberson county Sheriff’s Department secured the scene and are searching for witnesses or potential suspects. The investigation has since been turned over to the FBI.  

According to a news report with  NBC news, Chris Cabrera, a spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council labor union and a patrol agent, said the Martinez was hit several times in the head with a blunt object, possibly a large rock.

“We’ve had agents, a good friend of mine actually almost lost his eye. It happens quite a bit, unfortunately,” Cabrera said, adding that patrol vehicles, including helicopters, have been damaged by the throwing of rocks.

Cabrera said the type of rocks that agents are struck with are large in size, approximately as big as a grapefruit or softball. Border Patrol agents have also reported the use of Concrete blocks.

Fox news reported that although few details about the incident have been released, Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, told Fox News on Monday it appeared Martinez and the second agent were “ambushed” by a group of illegal immigrants.

“We don’t know exactly what happened because we weren’t there. However, just from agents that were working in the area, reports are saying it was an attack and it would appear to be an ambush,” Judd said.

As of Monday afternoon no suspects have been apprehended.  

The attack compelled a tweet from President Trump saying,  

 “Border Patrol Officer killed at Southern Border, another badly hurt. We will seek out and bring to justice those responsible. We will, and must, build the Wall!”

Last year,  Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan first revealed an increase of attacks in October and November of last year during testimony before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, where there had been a total of 149 incidents of illegals assaulting guards,  Acknowledging the more that 200 percent increase in assaults on agents this year, Morgan testified that Border Patrol agents are “the most assaulted federal law enforcement (agents) in the United States. More than 7,400 Border Patrol agents have been assaulted since 2006. That rose in  2016 by 20%, and year-to-date, we’re seeing an increase of assaults of 200% from the previous year-to-date. It’s a dangerous job.”

Sources:   Fox news, NBC news, Briebart news, U.S. Customs and Border Protection