Severe storm kills one as it sweeps northern Georgia

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Strong winds, quarter-sized hail and lightning ripped through towns in northern Georgia, killing one man and leaving several cities with severe damage and power outages on Wednesday, local media and officials said.

The man died when a tree fell on a home near Braselton, about 53 miles northeast of Atlanta, just before 9 p.m. on Tuesday, according to Fox 5, a local news affiliate, citing the Jackson County Emergency Management office.

The name of the deceased was not immediately released.

As the storm slowly crossed the state on Tuesday afternoon, gusts of winds of about 60 miles per hour toppled trees and power lines, the National Weather Service said. Photos on social media showed large balls of hail and massive fallen trees.

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued until 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday for about 10 counties. By Wednesday morning there were no active storm watches, warnings or advisories for the area.

Several school systems in the north of the state said they would begin classes two hours late on Wednesday due to the power outages and large number of downed trees.

More than 170,000 residents in north Georgia and the Atlanta metro area lost power at the height of the storm, according to Georgia Power. Most of them were reconnected before dawn.

“Service restored to more than 135k overnight, additional crews moving in from other parts of state. Thank you for your continued patience,” Georgia Power (@GeorgiaPower) wrote on Twitter.

Georgia Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) reported that only about 15,000 customers were without power in north Georgia and the Atlanta area by early Wednesday.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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)

U.S. wildfires ravage ranches in three states

Rancher Nancy Schwerzenbach walks with dogs through pasture burned by wildfires near Lipscomb, Texas, U.S., March 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Lucas Jackson

LIPSCOMB, Texas (Reuters) – When the Schwerzenbach family saw a wildfire racing toward their remote ranch in Lipscomb, Texas, there was no time to run.

“We had a minute or two and then it was over us,” said 56-year-old Nancy Schwerzenbach.

The fire, moving up to 70 miles per hour (112 kph), was one of several across more than 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) that hit the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas last week, causing millions of dollars of damage and killing thousands of livestock.

Burning through nearly all 1,000 acres of the Schwerzenbach ranch, the fire killed some 40 cattle. A mile away, a young man in the rural community was killed.

“The fire was about two miles away before we knew what happened to us,” she said.

Numerous smaller fires burned in Colorado, Nebraska and the Florida Everglades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas ranchers are returning home to survey the damage from the fires, fueled by tinder-dry vegetation and high winds. Local farmers from the Great Plains have helped those who have been affected by the wildfires by donating hay and fencing material.

In Oklahoma, the fires scorched a Smithfield Foods Inc. hog farm in Laverne, killing some 4,300 sows.

“When we drive down the road and look out on the pasture lands, there’s no grass. There’s dead deer, dead cows, dead wildlife, miles of fence gone away. It looks like a complete desert,” said Ashland Veterinary Center co-owner Dr. Randall Spare, who is helping in relief efforts in Clark County, Kansas.

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture State Veterinarian Rod Hall said bulldozers were being used to bury dead animals.

“They’re digging large pits and burying the animals in there,” he said.

In Texas, state government agencies estimate about 1,500 cattle were lost, according to Steve Amosson, an economist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

“When we value the deaths of cattle at market value, including disposal costs, we’re talking about $2.1 million at this point, and I expect that to go up,” he said. “We’re still dealing with chaos, they’re still trying to find cattle.”

Amosson estimates it could cost $6 million to recover 480,000 acres burned in Texas fires along with $4.3 million to replace and repair fences in the northern Texas Panhandle either destroyed by the fire or by cattle trampling them to escape the blaze.

Texas is the top U.S. cattle producing state with some 12.3 million head and Kansas is third at 6.4 million.

For Troy Bryant, 34, a rancher in Laverne, Oklahoma, the impact from the fires has been devastating. He lost livestock

worth about $35,000 and fencing worth about $40,000.

“We saw 4,000 acres burned here. Some places further west of here lost much more,” he said.

Click on http://reut.rs/2lXlAZK to see a photo related essay

(Reporting by Lucas Jackson in Lipscomb, Texas; Additional reporting by Renita D. Young and Theopolis Waters in Chicago; Writing and additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Melissa Fares and Diane Craft in New York)

Blizzard blows into northeast U.S.; flights canceled, schools shut

Cars are covered in snow in a general parking lot during the snowstorm at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 13, 2017. Some Chicagoland areas received up to 5 inches of snow, and more than 400 flights were cancelled at O'Hare. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

By Daniel Trotta and Scott Malone

NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) – Snow piled up rapidly in parts of the northeastern United States on Tuesday as a blizzard began blowing in, with residents being advised to stay at home, airlines grounding flights and schools canceling classes.

The National Weather Service (NWS) warned some 50 million people from Pennsylvania to Maine of a “rapidly intensifying nor’easter” that was unusual for so late in the winter. Some could expect to find themselves surrounded by up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow by early Wednesday, the federal agency predicted.

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

New York City was expected to escape the worst of it after the NWS withdrew its blizzard warning for the city on Tuesday morning, replacing it with a mere “winter weather advisory.” The service sharply reduced its snowfall forecast for the city to between 4 and 8 inches (10 and 20 cm).

Still, city life already was disrupted with many New Yorkers already planning to stay home with hard-won groceries picked up from crowded stores the night before.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended above-ground portions of the city’s subway service and said the Metro-North commuter service to the suburbs would shut down at noon. Transit officials warned that more bus and train routes might be suspended throughout the day.

“Normally, with the geography of New York, we normally have it on the east side or the west side. But this is statewide,” Cuomo told MSNBC in an interview.

“We’ve been through this a number of times so we’re prepared for it. Airports are basically closed … Government is basically closed, schools are basically closed, so there’s no real reason to be on the roads and we made that clear yesterday.”

Some 2,000 members of the National Guard and 5,000 plows were deployed across the state, Cuomo said.

Workers clear frozen precipitation from a walkway at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Workers clear frozen precipitation from a walkway at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

AIR TRAFFIC SNARLED

Airlines canceled about 5,500 flights across the United States, according to tracking service FlightAware.com. The airports with the most cancellations were Newark in New Jersey, LaGuardia in New York and Boston Logan International Airport.

American Airlines <AAL.O> canceled all flights into New York’s three airports – Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airport – and JetBlue Airways <JBLU.O> reported extensive cancellations.

Delta Air Lines <DAL.N> canceled 800 flights for Tuesday for New York, Boston and other northeast airports. United Airlines <UAL.N> said it would have no operations at Newark or LaGuardia.

“We’re keeping a close eye on things and depending on how things go, will plan to ramp back up Wednesday morning,” United said in a statement.

New York City public schools – the largest U.S. school system – canceled classes on Tuesday as did schools in the Washington, D.C., area, Boston, Philadelphia and northern New Jersey.

Federal agencies in Washington said they were opening three hours later than normal on Tuesday.

The storm comes near the end of an unusually mild winter along much of the East Coast, with below-normal snowfalls in cities such as New York City and Washington.

Boston was braced for up to a foot of snow, which forecasters warned would fall quickly during the storm’s peak. The double-murder trial in Boston of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was suspended for the day because of the weather.

Washington, a city that functions badly with even small amounts of snow, was expecting 5 inches (13 cm) and twice that in outlying areas.

Snow fall was to be heavy at times with as much as 4 inches an hour expected to fall with winds reaching up to 60 mph (100 kph) in parts of the northeast, the National Weather Service warned.

Coastal flood warnings were also in effect for several parts of the region as a storm surge is expected during high tide on Tuesday, the weather service said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was due to meet President Donald Trump in Washington on Tuesday, postponed her trip until Friday, the White House said.

Shelves are seen scarce with bread at a Trader Joe's grocery store ahead of a fast-moving winter storm expected to hit the northeastern United States, in the borough of Manhattan in New York, U.S., March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Shelves are seen scarce with bread at a Trader Joe’s grocery store ahead of a fast-moving winter storm expected to hit the northeastern United States, in the borough of Manhattan in New York, U.S., March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Laila Kearney and Jonathan Allen in New York and Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Louise Ireland and Bill Trott)

U.S. Northeast braces for late winter blizzard

A woman is seen through a snow soaked car window walking in the snow at Cunningham Park in the borough of Queens in New York, U.S.

By Chris Michaud and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Forecasters put the U.S. East Coast from New York City to Boston on a blizzard watch starting as early as Monday night, with authorities warning residents to prepare for the possibility of widespread power outages, road closures and flight disruptions.

Weather experts predicted the region could see 12 to 18 inches of wind-blasted snow from Monday to early Wednesday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced preparations for the so-called Nor’easter storm, activating the state Emergency Operations Center as of Monday night while also directing state agencies to be on heightened alert.

“I encourage all New Yorkers in affected regions to plan ahead and avoid any unnecessary travel as the storm progresses,” Cuomo said in a statement, adding that commuters should expect road closures, delays and cancellations.

The storm also raised the potential for power outages with damaging winds across eastern Long Island and southeastern Connecticut, the National Weather Service said.

Significant disruption to air travel in the region was also anticipated with the storm.

Blowing snow and strong winds could lead to whiteout conditions with visibility as poor as a quarter mile, the service said. Sub-freezing temperatures were forecast in the upper 20s Fahrenheit.

New York City issued a snow alert for Monday night into Tuesday, expecting snowfall rates of up to 2 to 4 inches per hour Tuesday morning and afternoon, with gusts of up to 50 mph.

Mayor Bill de Blasio warned New Yorkers that “besides the snow, it will be cold,” while officials recommended that people avoid driving and use mass transit when possible.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was installing hundreds of pieces of snow equipment at the three New York area airports. Thousands of tons of salt and sand were prepared for airport roads, parking lots, bridges and tunnels.

As some 50 million people along the Eastern Seaboard came under storm or blizzard watches, Washington, D.C., which often bogs down with even low levels of snow, was expecting 5 inches and twice that in outlying areas.

The storm comes near the end of an unusually mild winter along much of the East Coast, with below-normal snowfalls in some areas, including New York City and Washington. It was the warmest February on record in nearly the entire area, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Last week in New York, temperatures hovered near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Accuweather.com, hitting 60 or higher on six days in February.

Meanwhile, in the western United States, the weather service forecast potentially record-setting heat in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, where temperatures were expected into the 90s in some places.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Randy Fabi)

Thousands of pigs die in Oklahoma wildfires at Smithfield Foods hog farm

(Reuters) – Wildfires devastated a Smithfield Foods Inc [SFII.UL] hog farm in Laverne, Oklahoma, killing an uncertain but potentially huge number of pigs, company and local officials said on Friday.

“Several thousands were lost,” said Luke Kanclerz, spokesman for the Oklahoma Forestry Services. “Such a large area was impacted by these fires, it’s taking time to collect information … there are no accurate numbers yet.”

Firefighters on Friday were still working to contain some of the grass fires that grew rapidly on Monday due to dry weather and parched prairie land in Texas, north and western Oklahoma and southern Kansas, burning nearly 2 million acres, killing six people and hundreds of cattle.

The Smithfield farm housed about 45,000 sows, according to the company website.

“While we are deeply thankful that no employees were harmed in the fire, we lament the unnecessary loss of animals and the devastation to the surrounding community,” Smithfield spokeswoman Kathleen Kirkham said in a statement.

Kirkham did not respond to a request for an estimate on how many sows at the farm had died.

Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, says it produces about 16 million hogs per year. The company is a subsidiary of WH Group Ltd.

(Reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Tom Brown)

More than 100,000 customers without power in upstate New York

(Reuters) – More than 100,000 customers remained without power in upstate New York on Friday and were told that some outages could last for days after fierce winds toppled power lines and damaged homes and businesses.

Utilities companies reported that nearly 127,000 customers were without power as of 1 a.m. local time as crews continued to access the damage, remove trees and repair power lines after 70 mph (110 kph) wind gusts blew through the area on Wednesday.

“Due to the considerable damage, the companies continue to advise customers to plan for outages extending past the next 24 hours and in some areas may last for multiple days,” power companies NYSEG and RG&E said in a statement.

Homes and business owners throughout the area spent the day on Thursday cleaning up debris and assessing the damage to their structures while crews cleared downed trees and power lines that made some roads impassable.

“I’m alive, my daughter is alive … so I’m happy. Just pick up the pieces and start all over again, that is all I can do,” Twanna Lister said to TWC News in Rochester after a tree smashed through a home she was renting.

The Rochester City School District canceled classes on Friday for its 28,000 students in the hopes that classes will resume on Monday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Michael Perry)

Wildfire threat remains after killing six, destroying numerous structures

(Reuters) – The threat of wildfires is expected to remain high on Wednesday in the U.S. Plains, where prairie fires have claimed six lives, prompted thousands of evacuations and destroyed numerous structures.

Fire weather advisories remained in effect in parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas where firefighters continued to battle wildfires stoked by high winds and tinder-dry vegetation over the last several days.

Low humidity along with 15 to 25 mph (25 to 40 kph) winds and ongoing drought conditions will continue to create elevated fire dangers throughout the region, the National Weather Service said in its advisories that also included Missouri and Nebraska.

Cooler temperatures, diminishing winds and a chance of rain were in the forecast for parts of the region over the weekend, but the weather service warned that the threat of wildfires remained in effect.

“Winds will be considerably lighter through the middle to latter part of the week. This will result in less threatening fire weather conditions. However, a limited to elevated risk will continue, given the dry conditions,” the service said.

The fires killed four people, including three ranch hands racing to herd livestock to safety, in the Texas Panhandle. One motorist died in Kansas on Monday from smoke inhalation, authorities said.

A woman in Oklahoma suffered a heart attack while trying to move cattle from harm’s way and died, NBC News reported. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared an emergency in 22 counties hit by wildfires.

The Perryton fire blackened more than 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) and destroyed two homes in the Texas Panhandle and was 50 percent contained, authorities said.

Wildfires in northwestern Oklahoma prompted evacuations of multiple towns, according to state officials, who said more than 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) have burned.

At least 10,000 residents in central Kansas were asked to evacuate their homes due to a wildfire in Reno County, where about 230 responders were on the scene, the county’s emergency management agency said.

More than 650,000 acres (263,000 hectares) also have burned in Kansas, according to the state’s emergency management agency.

Firefighters battling a 30,000-acre (12,000-hectare) grassland fire in northeastern Colorado extended containment lines to 80 percent of the blaze’s perimeter on Tuesday. Five homes were lost in the flames, a spokeswoman for Phillips County official said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Storms, tornadoes rake Midwest as high winds fuel prairie fires

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A line of thunderstorms packing hail and isolated tornadoes rumbled across the Midwest from Oklahoma to Minnesota on Monday as wind-fueled prairie fires forced thousands of people from their homes in Colorado and Kansas.

Police and National Weather Service meteorologists reported some power outages but no initial major damage from the storms carrying winds of 60 miles per hour (96 kph) and hail 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter as they rolled east.

A tornado touched down in Smithville, Missouri, a Kansas City suburb, damaging 10 to 12 homes and displacing a few families but causing no major injuries, Police Chief Jason Lockridge said.

“Rain was minimal, it was just high winds and what was described as a funnel cloud,” he said in a telephone interview.

Areas of eastern Missouri and Iowa and western Illinois were under a tornado watch until early on Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service said.

The storms were largely to the east of an area stretching from the Texas Panhandle into Colorado, Nebraska and western Missouri that was under a “red flag” weather service warning for fires because of high winds, warm temperatures and dry conditions.

Twenty counties in central Kansas reported brush fires on Monday, some more than one, fueled by winds gusting to up 60 mph, said Katie Horner, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department.

Ten towns were forced to evacuate residents because of the fire threat, including 10,000 to 12,000 from the city of Hutchinson, she said.

Helicopters from the Kansas National Guard were being used to dump water on the fires, she said. “It’s just a massive undertaking,” Horner said.

A prairie fire in northeast Colorado had burned about 25,000 acres (10,100 hectares), and officials said about 1,000 people in small farming towns were under evacuation or pre-evacuation orders.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago, Keith Coffman in Denver and Ian Simpson in Washinton; Editing by James Dalgleish and Paul Tait)