‘Godzilla dust cloud’ drifts over U.S. Southeast, raising health concerns

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A massive plume of dust whipped up from the Sahara desert will hover over the U.S. Southeast this weekend, forecasters say, shrouding the region in a brown haze and raising more health concerns in states where the coronavirus crisis is worsening.

The 3,500-mile-long (5,600 km) cloud, dubbed the “Godzilla dust cloud,” traveled 5,000 miles (8,047 km) from North Africa before reaching the region stretching from Florida west into Texas and north into North Carolina through Arkansas, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“It’s a really dry layer of air that contains these very fine dust particulates. It occurs every summer,” said NWS meteorologist Patrick Blood. “Some of these plumes contain more particles, and right now we expecting a very large plume of dust in the Gulf Coast.”

This year, the dust is the most dense it has been in a half a century, several meteorologists told Reuters earlier this week as it crossed over the Caribbean.

The Saharan dust plume will hang over the region until the middle of next week, deteriorating the air quality in Texas, Florida and other states where the number of COVID-19 cases has recently spiked.

“There’s emerging evidence of potential interactions between air pollution and the risk of COVID, so at this stage we are concerned,” said Gregory Wellenius, an professor of environmental health at Boston University’s School of Public Health.

Air pollution can be especially detrimental for people who are at risk for or suffer from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, Wellenius added. Heart and lung problems heighten the risk of severe COVID-19.

The plume will create hazy skies and lower visibility. In the past, dust plumes from Africa have dumped a thin layer of dust onto vehicles in Houston, where air quality is always a concern, Blood said.

The dry air mass that carries the dust can suppress tropical storm and hurricane formation and can enhance and illuminate sunrises and sunsets, meteorologists said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Heavy snowstorm kills three, snarls travel in U.S. Southeast

An aerial view shows snow over the Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, U.S. in this still image taken from a social media video. Nelson Aerial Productions/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – An intense snowstorm headed out to sea on Monday after dumping up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow on parts of the Southeastern United States, leaving three people dead in North Carolina and some 138,000 customers in the region still without power.

School districts across North and South Carolina and Virginia canceled classes for the day and emergency officials warned that heavy snow and icy roads were slowing their responses to problems such as hundreds of stranded motorists.

The storm dropped its heaviest snow in the appropriately named Whitetop, Virginia, tucked in the Appalachian Mountains along the western end of the Virginia-North Carolina border, the U.S. National Weather Service said. Whitetop received 2 feet of snow, while Greensboro, North Carolina, had 16 inches (41 cm) and Durham, North Carolina, got 14 inches (36 cm).

Slippery conditions on roadways in central and western North Carolina and southwest Virginia were expected on Monday night as temperatures were forecast to drop below freezing, Daniel Petersen, NWS meteorologist, said.

But temperatures were expected to rise later in the week, reaching into the 50s F in North Carolina east of the mountains on Friday, when there is a chance of rain.

There were three storm-related deaths, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s office said in a statement. A person died from a heart-related condition while en route to a shelter, and a terminally ill woman died when her oxygen device stopped working.

A motorist also died and a passenger was injured in Matthews in southwestern North Carolina on Sunday when a tree fell on their vehicle as it was traveling, Matthews police officials said in a statement.

The number of customers without power in the Carolinas and Virginia had decreased to about 138,000 by Monday evening from more than 220,000, Poweroutage.us reported.

The storm prompted the cancellation of one in four flights into and out of Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, the sixth-busiest in the country, and other airports across the region, flight-tracking website FlightAware said.

The mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, Nancy Vaughan, who declared a state of emergency for the city on Sunday, said online that its police and fire departments had responded to over 100 accidents and 450 stranded motorists.

“Stay off the roads if you can,” Vaughan tweeted on Monday.

More than 100 counties across Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia delayed or canceled classes on Monday because of severe weather.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Gina Cherelus and Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Richard Chang and Peter Cooney)

Snowstorm kills one, thousands without power in U.S. southeast

Snow hits a porch in Banner Elk, North Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from a time-lapse video obtained from social media. Rod Wilbourn/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – An intense snowstorm was easing up on Monday after it dumped up to two feet of snow in Virginia, left one motorist dead in North Carolina and cut off power for more than 300,000 people in the U.S. southeast.

The storm headed out to sea but the region will stay cold this week, the U.S. National Weather Service said.

A man cuts a fallen tree blocking a road in Landrum, South Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Off-Road Adventures/via REUTERS

A man cuts a fallen tree blocking a road in Landrum, South Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Off-Road Adventures/via REUTERS

Motorists in northern Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia can expect snow and ice to taper off on Monday, NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said.

“It’s fairly light and some of it is actually mixing with rain in North Carolina, so it won’t be as bad as it was in the last 24 hours,” Oravec said.

The storm dropped its heaviest snow in the appropriately named Whitetop, Virginia, tucked in the Appalachian Mountains along the western end of the Virginia-North Carolina border, the NWS said. Whitetop received two feet (60 cm) of snow, while Greensboro, North Carolina saw 16 inches (41 cm) and Durham, North Carolina got 14 inches (36 cm).

“Some of the higher totals occurred in higher elevations, but there were high totals in the more populated area of North Carolina as well,” Oravec said.

A motorist died and a passenger was injured in Matthews, North Carolina, on Sunday when a tree fell on their vehicle as it was traveling, causing the driver to plow through the front lawn of a church and slam into the building, Matthew police officials said in a statement.

In Kinston, North Carolina, divers searched for a driver whose 18-wheeler was found in a river, an NBC affiliate in Raleigh reported.

More than 300,000 customers were without power in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia, Poweroutage.us reported.

The storm prompted more than 1,000 flight cancellations at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, the sixth-busiest airport in the country, and other airports across the region, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware, early Monday.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Sunday a state of emergency would remain in effect and the North Carolina National Guard had been activated to help with the response.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus and Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Trump promises all-out response to Hurricane Florence

U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the federal government would spare no expense in responding to the likely damage from Hurricane Florence, which is forecast to slam the Carolina coast later this week.

“Any amounts of money, whatever it takes, we’re going to do it,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he met with top aides and federal disaster officials.

In remarks aimed at Americans who could find themselves in harm’s way, the president noted that experts were predicting a storm the likes of which the East Coast of the United States has not seen in decades.

“I would say everybody should get out, he said. “It’s going to be really, really bad along the coast.”

Federal forecasters expect the storm to make landfall on Friday with 130 mile-per-hour (215 kph) winds and massive waves, with rains taking a heavy toll inland. Some 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate their homes.

The government’s top disaster response official, Federal Emergency Management Agency head Brock Long, told reporters that residents in areas likely to be affected should not under-estimate the threat.

“This has an opportunity of being a very devastating storm,” Long said. “The power is going to be off for weeks. You are going to be displaced from your home in the coastal areas, and there will be flooding in the inland areas as well.”

Trump, who has faced criticism for his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed an estimated 3,000 people in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, knocked out power to all 3.4 million residents of the Caribbean island, with thousands still without power even six months after the storm hit, said the federal government was “totally prepared” for Florence.

“We’re ready. We’re as ready as anybody has ever been,” he said.

Asked what lessons could be learn from Maria, Trump said the government’s response in that case was complicated because Puerto Rico is an island and its electrical grid was already impaired.

“I actually think it was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done,” he said. “I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.”

The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, Carmen Yulin Cruz, blasted Trump for touting his administration’s response to the hurricane as a success.

“This was a despicable act of neglect on the part of his administration,” Cruz told CNN.

Florence, a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, was located about 785 miles (1,260 km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 4:30 p.m. EDT (2030 GMT), according to the National Hurricane Center.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Leslie Adler)

‘Monster’ Hurricane Florence to pummel U.S. Southeast for days

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Hurricane Florence, on track to become the first Category 4 storm to make a direct hit on North Carolina in six decades, howled closer to shore on Tuesday, threatening to unleash deadly pounding surf, days of torrential rain and severe flooding.

Sailors cast off mooring lines to the Command hospital ship USNS Comfort as the ship evacuates Naval Station Norfolk in preparation for Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2018. Jennifer Hunt/US Navy/Handout via REUTERS

Sailors cast off mooring lines to the Command hospital ship USNS Comfort as the ship evacuates Naval Station Norfolk in preparation for Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2018. Jennifer Hunt/US Navy/Handout via REUTERS

Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and South Carolina and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as 13 feet (4 meters), the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned. Catastrophic floods could follow if the storm stalls inland, it said.

Although Florence was still days from arrival, authorities took extraordinary measures to move people out of harm’s way. More than 1 million residents have been ordered to evacuate from the coastline of the three states, while university campuses, schools, and factories were being shuttered.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed ports in Wilmington and Morehead City, North Carolina and Hampton Roads, Virginia to inbound vessels greater than 500 tons and was requiring vessels of that size to leave if they did not have permission to be in the ports.

Packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (225 km per hour), the storm ranked as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale and was expected to grow stronger and larger over the next few days, the NHC said.

“This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. “Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”

He cited forecasts showing Florence was likely to stall over North Carolina, “bringing days and days of rain.”

To hasten evacuations from coastal South Carolina, officials reversed the flow of traffic on some highways so all major roads led away from shore.

Kathleen O’Neal, a resident of Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Barrier Islands, said she, her husband and son would ride out the storm. “A lot of local people are staying,” she said of the island, which is reachable only by ferry or plane.

John Muchmore helps to lay sandbags at the Afterdeck condos ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

John Muchmore helps to lay sandbags at the Afterdeck condos ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

LONG-TERM POWER OUTAGES POSSIBLE

Maps of Florence’s trajectory showed its center most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina. The last Category 4 hurricane to plow directly into North Carolina was Hazel in 1954, a devastating storm that killed 19 people and destroyed some 15,000 homes.

NHC forecasts showed the effects of Florence would be widely felt, with tropical storm-force winds extending nearly 300 miles across three states. A hurricane warning was posted for most of the Carolina coast north to the Virginia border.

In addition to wind-driven storm surges of seawater, Florence could dump up to 35 inches (89 cm) in some spots as it moves inland, forecasters said.

Communities in Florence’s path could lose electricity for weeks due to downed power lines and flooded equipment, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long said.

Utilities deployed crews and gear in advance, with workers en route to the region from at least 15 states, according to trade group, the Edison Electric Institute.

Crews also prepared 16 nuclear reactors in the three-state region for the storm. One power station, Duke Energy Corp’s Brunswick plant, the closest to the area where landfall is forecast, faced a likely shutdown as a precaution. Shutdowns also were possible at two more plants in the path of predicted hurricane-force winds.

The American Red Cross said more than 700 workers were headed to the region while shelters were set up to house those unable to flee. A hospital in Hampton, Virginia, was transferring patients to safer places.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, freeing up federal resources for storm response.

“We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared,” Trump said at the White House.

Trump faced severe criticism for his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria last year in Puerto Rico. Some 3,000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS

Days before its arrival, Florence was already disrupting commercial operations.

Boeing Co suspended work on Tuesday at the South Carolina plant where it assembles 787 widebody jetliners, and a Volvo automobile plant in South Carolina’s evacuation zone was also closed, company officials said.

Smithfield Foods Inc [SFII.UL] said it would shut down the world’s largest hog-slaughtering facility in Tar Heel, North Carolina, on Thursday and Friday due to the hurricane.

Residents prepared by boarding up their homes and stocking up on food, water and other essentials, stripping grocery store shelves of merchandise. Many gasoline stations were running low on fuel.

“I’m scared we’ll get 30 inches or more of rain,” said Carol Trojniar, 69, a longtime Wilmington resident and retired real estate agent who has never experienced a Category 4 hurricane. “What is flooding going to do to our home, our city?”

Trojniar said she and her husband were packing up belongings and plan to stack sandbags around their single-floor home in Wilmington’s eerily named Landfall neighborhood near the ocean before checking into a hotel to ride out the storm, with plenty of wine.

“Where else can we go? If we try to leave, we’ll just get stuck in the rain,” she said.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Holden Beach, North Carolina, Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Liz Hampton in Houston, Susan Heavey in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Scott DiSavino and Alden Bentley in New York, Nichola Groom and Alex Dobzinskis in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski, Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Lisa Shumaker and Michael Perry)

U.S. southeast braces for ‘days and days’ of floods from Florence

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Anna Driver

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C. (Reuters) – The powerful Hurricane Florence threatened to bring “days and days” of rain and potentially deadly flooding to the U.S. southeast coast, North Carolina’s governor warned on Tuesday, as some 1 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes.

Vehicles travel westbound on Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Vehicles travel westbound on Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

The storm threatened to hit coastal North and South Carolina with 130 mile per hour (210 kph) winds and massive waves when it makes landfall on Friday, and its rains will take a heavy toll for miles inland, the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned.

“This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane … the forecast shows Florence stalling over North Carolina, bringing days and days of rain.”

Cooper and his counterparts in neighboring South Carolina and Virginia ordered about 1 million people to evacuate coastal homes, including along the Outer Banks barrier islands that protect North Carolina’s shore. Officials in South Carolina reversed the flow of traffic on some highways so that all major roads led away from the sea to speed evacuations.

The slow-moving storm, the most severe hurricane to threaten the U.S. mainland this year, was rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and located about 905 miles (1,455 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 11 a.m. EDT, according to the NHC.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for both North Carolina and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and resources for storm response. Officials have declared states of emergency in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

In addition to flooding the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 12 feet (3.7 m), Florence could drop 20 inches to as much as 30 inches (51 cm to 76 cm) of rain in places, forecasters said.

GRAPHIC: Hurricane Florence heads toward Carolinas – https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZ5m1v

‘PLANNING FOR DEVASTATION’

“This storm is going to be a direct hit on our coast,” said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We are planning for devastation.”

Not everyone was in a hurry to leave. Charles Mullen, 81, a longtime resident of Hatteras Island, North Carolina, said he had ridden out many storms and that most locals were planning to stay unless Florence took aim at Hatteras.

“If it decides to come here, we’re gone,” he said.

Residents prepared by boarding up their homes and stripping grocery stores bare of food, water and supplies. Some gas stations also ran low on fuel.

“This is still a very dangerous storm,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said at a Tuesday news conference. “We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence.”

McMaster lifted an earlier evacuation order for parts of three southern coastal counties but left them in effect for the state’s northern coast and urged residents to flee.

Wall Street was sniffing out companies that could gain or lose at the storm’s hands. Generator maker Generac Holdings Inc rose 2.2 percent and reached its highest price since April 2014.

Insurers Allstate Corp and Travelers Companies Inc were up slightly in early trade after falling sharply on Monday on worries about claims losses.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah said all nuclear power plants in the area were preparing but that Duke Energy Corp’s Brunswick and Harris plants in North Carolina were most likely to be affected and, if Florence turns north, Dominion Energy Inc’s Surry plant in Virginia.

Plants in the storm’s path are shut down about 12 hours in advance of being hit.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Liz Hampton in Houston, Susan Heavey in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Alden Bentley in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski and Bill Trott; Editing by Scott Malone)

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)