Storm may help U.S. Northeast contain coronavirus but could disrupt vaccine delivery

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A winter storm that has blasted the U.S. Northeast with snow, rain and gusty winds was likely to dump a foot or more of snow on parts of New England before heading out to sea on Thursday.

The first major snowstorm of the season forced much of the population to obey stay-at-home coronavirus orders, but also disrupted travel, possibly including distribution of the new COVID-19 vaccine.

By early Thursday morning, the storm had dumped more snow on New York City than all of last year’s winter storms combined, the National Weather Service said.

It also brought its wintry mix to Washington, parts of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania on Wednesday, affecting an area home to more than 50 million people.

Forecasts showed it would pummel Boston and parts of the New England region before heading out to sea around nightfall.

Before then, many areas could expect 12 to 18 inches of snow.

Wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour were likely to knock down trees and power lines, the National Weather Service said.

Roads were treacherous. A pileup of 30 to 60 cars on Interstate-80 in Pennsylvania on Wednesday killed two people and injured more, state police said.

At the same time, trucks were delivering the first batches of the COVID-19 vaccine. Healthcare workers around the country started receiving the first inoculations this week.

“We are also watching very carefully the delivery of the vaccine,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told a news conference on Wednesday, noting that some 35 hospitals in his state were expecting deliveries between Wednesday and Friday. “If we didn’t have enough already on our hands, that’s another dimension.”

The New York area’s three major airports reported 20% to 30% of flights were canceled on Wednesday and more cancellations were expected. Amtrak reduced rail service.

New Jersey Transit on Thursday extended its suspension of all rail service, in addition to halting several bus lines including those destined for New York City.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Timothy Garnder in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Winter storm set to deliver disruptive blow to U.S. Northeast

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A major winter storm was making its way up the U.S. East Coast on Wednesday, ready to deliver a disruptive blow to the region, with up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow in parts of the Northeast and freezing rain in some Mid-Atlantic areas, forecasters said.

The Nor’easter, which was already bringing a wintry mix of precipitation to Virginia and North Carolina early in the day, was moving up the coast that is home to more than 50 million people before exiting the Boston area on Thursday afternoon, they said.

Meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said the forecast could have been worse if not for the speed at which the system was traveling.

“It’s not a slow-moving system at all, so it’s not going to be a very prolonged snow event,” Oravec said by phone.

Ground zero for snow accumulation is an area that includes several ski resorts stretching from central Pennsylvania to upstate New York, where 18 to 24 inches was expected, Oravec said.

“Typically, when you have a big snowstorm like this, you can have snow totals one to two inches plus per hour,” he added.

But a much larger area that includes the New York City area is likely to get more than a foot of snow, he said.

New York City officials began warning residents on Tuesday of the potential for hazardous travel and urged people to stay off the roads.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday that it was shaping up to be the first major snowstorm in a couple of years, “and people need to take it seriously.”

New York City schools, which just recently reopened their classrooms after a brief pandemic-induced shutdown, were set to go fully remote on Thursday when students are likely to wake up to more than a foot of snow on the ground, de Blasio said. The snow could significantly reduce visibility and potentially cripple travel in places, while winds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) could down trees and power lines, causing power outages, the weather service said.

Many areas of North Carolina and southwestern Virginia were expected to get freezing rain that will leave a quarter-inch of ice on the roads, the service said.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brian in Chicago)

‘Bomb cyclone’ pushes east across U.S. after winter siege of Midwest, Rockies

A general view of the blizzard in Greeley, Colorado, U.S. March 13, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit TWITTER @PHOTOWILLG/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A powerful, late-winter “bomb cyclone” storm pushed east into the U.S. Midwest and the Great Lakes region on Friday after bombarding the Rocky Mountain and Plains states with blizzards, floods and tornados, prompting precautions at a Nebraska nuclear power plant.

In Iowa, a disaster proclamation by Governor Kim Reynolds, issued after reports of flooding, remained in effect overnight.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts also issued an emergency declaration after rain-swollen rivers and dam breaches left many bridges and roads impassable and prompted thousands of residents of the farm state to evacuate.

“Widespread and extremely dangerous flooding will continue today and tonight,” the National Weather Service office in Omaha, Nebraska, said on Friday in a statement.

Many streams will see moderate to major flooding through the weekend, the service added, and flooding along the Missouri River will continue into next week.

The Nebraska Public Power District declared an “unusual event” at its Cooper Nuclear Station power plant on Friday due to the possibility of flooding along the Missouri.

Workers filled sandbags along the river levee and procured other materials for flood protection, the power agency said. It said the plant continued to operate safely and there was no threat to plant employees or to the public.

Thirteen tornados were reported on Thursday in Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, but there were no immediate reports of serious damage.

Meteorologists referred to the storm as a “bomb cyclone,” a winter hurricane that forms when the barometric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours.

At the storm’s peak, 2 feet of snow was dumped on Colorado’s mountain regions, forcing the cancellation of more than 1,300 flights in Denver and trapping more than 1,000 motorists on roadsides. Many had to be rescued by police, who used school buses to ferry them to safety.

There were no remaining blizzard warnings Friday, Oravec said.

“There’s still a good threat of thunderstorms in Louisiana, Mississippi and up into the Great Lakes region as the system pushes into Canada, but it’s not like it was,” he said.

Most power outages were cleared by early Friday, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, and air traffic returned to normal at Denver International Airport, a regional hub that was hardest hit by the storm.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Keith Coffman, Dan Whitcomb and Scott DiSavino; Editing by Mark Potter and Jonathan Oatis)

Nebraska preps nuclear plant for possible flooding, no public danger

Corp of Engineers photo of the nuclear power plant during the 2011 Missouri River flooding

(Reuters) – Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) on Friday declared an “unusual event” at its Cooper nuclear power station in Nebraska due to the possibility of flooding along the Missouri River following a powerful winter storm this week.

The plant continues to operate safely and “there is no threat to plant employees or to the public,” the utility said in a release.

The late winter storm, dubbed a “bomb cyclone” by meteorologists, left blizzards, floods and tornados in its wake after hitting the U.S. Mountain and Plains states this week, before pushing east into the Midwest and the Great Lakes Region early Friday.

NPPD said its workers have filled sandbags along the river levee and procured other materials and supplies for flood protection.

The biggest danger to a nuclear plant from flooding is the loss of power, which can make it difficult to cool the uranium fuel in the reactor core and the fuel stored in the spent fuel pool.

That is what caused the fuel in some reactor cores at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan to partially melt down in 2011 after a giant earthquake and tsunami cut power to the plant.

Since Fukushima, all U.S. reactors have been upgraded with additional safety equipment, including portable pumps and generators to keep cooling water circulating through the reactor in case the plant loses offsite power.

NPPD said its procedures require it to declare an unusual event to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission when the Missouri River tops 899 feet above sea level. It reached 899.05 feet Friday morning, the company said.

Should the river rise to 900 feet above sea level, NPPD said plant workers will “barricade internal doorways as another layer of protection for facility equipment.”

If the river reaches 901.5 feet above sea level, NPPD said it would take the station offline as a protective measure.

The plant was built at 903 feet above sea level, which is 13 feet above natural grade, NPPD said.

The Cooper station is three miles (4.8 km) southeast of Brownville, Nebraska, near the Missouri River.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)

Colorado trooper killed as ‘Bomb Cyclone’ unleashes snow, high winds

A policeman talks to a driver as snow clogs the roads in Lone Tree, Colorado, U.S. in this March 13, 2019 handout photo. City of Lone Tree, Colo./Handout via REUTERS

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A late-winter blizzard slammed U.S. Rocky Mountain and Plains states on Wednesday, unleashing a “bomb cyclone” of high winds and drifting snow that stranded motorists, canceled more than 1,300 airline flights and was blamed for the death of a Colorado state trooper.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency due to the storm and said he had activated the state National Guard to assist in search and rescue operations.

Corporal Daniel Groves, 52, of the Colorado State Patrol is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters March 13, 2019. Colorado State Police/Handout via REUTERS

Corporal Daniel Groves, 52, of the Colorado State Patrol is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters March 13, 2019. Colorado State Police/Handout via REUTERS

The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings for parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and the Dakotas as schools and businesses were closed and local authorities urged residents to hunker down.

Meteorologists referred to the storm as a “bomb cyclone,” a winter hurricane that forms when the barometric pressure drops 24 millibars in 24 hours.

“So far, we have received 110 traffic crash reports and #Denver remains on #AccidentAlert,” the Denver Police Department said on Twitter.

“If you absolutely have to head out, please be cautious- it’s still #snowgoing out there. Turn your lights on, set the wipers on high; don’t forget the extra stopping distance. #BombCyclone”

The Colorado State Patrol said one of its troopers, Corporal Daniel Groves, was struck by a car that veered out of control on Interstate 76 and he died of his injuries a short time later at Platte Valley Medical Center in Brighton.

At the time, Groves, 52, was on the scene of another accident in which a vehicle had slid off the roadway, the state patrol said. It added that “high speed in poor driving conditions” was being investigated in connection with the crash that caused his death.

A general view of the blizzard in Greeley, Colorado, U.S. March 13, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit TWITTER @PHOTOWILLG/via REUTERS

A general view of the blizzard in Greeley, Colorado, U.S. March 13, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit TWITTER @PHOTOWILLG/via REUTERS

FLIGHTS DELAYED, CANCELED

All six runways at Denver International Airport were shuttered, along with the main road into the airport due to drifting, blowing snow. An airport spokesman said 1,339 flights had been canceled as of mid-afternoon. Colorado Springs Municipal Airport canceled all incoming flights.

All school districts in the seven-county Denver metropolitan were closed, along with most city and state government offices and many businesses.

Officials in El Paso County, Colorado, said some 1,100 motorists were stranded on Interstate 25 near Colorado Springs.

Utility company Xcel Energy said about 130,000 commercial and residential customers in Colorado were without power due to high winds and wet heavy snow.

“Limited visibility has affected our ability to respond,” Xcel Energy spokesman Mark Stutz said, adding it was unclear when power would be restored.

The police department in Northglenn, Colorado, tweeted a picture of a large tree that fell on a home, breaking through the roof. It was not immediately clear if anyone was hurt.

Interstate 70 was closed east of Denver to the Kansas state line and sections of Interstate 25 were also shut down, according to Colorado Department of Transportation.

“They typically do get strong systems this time of the year in that part of the country, but this one is maybe a notch stronger than what you typically see,” said meteorologist Marc Chenard of the weather service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Forecasters said they expect winds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 kph) to sweep across a wide area of states to the south, including New Mexico and parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

“Pretty much through much of the Plains there’s going to be a threat for potential power outage issues,” Chenard said.

More than 100,000 electric power customers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were left in the dark early on Wednesday after a line of rain squalls associated with the system moved through the area.

The storm was also expected to bring heavy rain to areas of eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota that already have a good deal of snow on the ground, raising the threat of river flooding, the weather service said.

The storm system is expected to weaken by Thursday as it moves over the Tennessee River Valley, bringing mostly rain from Michigan southward to the Gulf Coast and some remaining snow only in the far northern parts of the country, the weather service said.

(This story corrects name of Colorado governor in second paragraph)

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; additional reporting Peter Szekely in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)

Schools shut, flights canceled as storm sweeps U.S. Midwest, East Coast

A local resident removes snow from a car during a winter storm in Washington, U.S., February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Reuters) – A winter storm swept across much of the U.S. Midwest and East Coast on Wednesday, hampering air travel and prompting officials to close federal offices in Washington and several large public school systems.

The National Weather Service warned the storm could make travel very difficult, with snow, sleet and freezing rain potentially causing downed branches and power outages.

The storm reached from northern Minnesota down through Missouri and east into the Mid-Atlantic region and could bring as much as 6 inches (15 cm) of snow along with sleet and freezing rain, the National Weather Service said in an advisory.

The storm forced the closing of federal agencies in Washington as well as schools in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.

Hundreds of flights were delayed or canceled in and out of major airports in Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago, according to Flightaware.com. Airports told passengers on social media to check their airlines for delays and cancellations.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Monster mudslides, water rescues as storm punishes California

A man carries flowers in the rain in the flower district on Valentine's Day in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Motorists swam for their lives and residents were rescued from homes sliding downhill as the wettest winter storm of the year triggered floods and mudslides across California on Thursday.

In Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, a mudslide carried away two homes and engulfed five cars, sending one woman to the hospital, Southern Marin Fire Department tweeted. Dozens of homes were evacuated in the area.

In Cabazon, about 84 miles (135 km) east of Los Angeles, two motorists swam from their vehicle and were rescued by helicopter after their car was engulfed by churning brown floodwaters, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman said.

“We’ve had multiple water rescues throughout the day, I think today our helicopter is up to about a dozen,” said CalFire spokesman Richard Cordova. “We haven’t seen rain like this in 10 years.”

Three Delta Air Lines passengers suffered minor injuries when severe turbulence shook a flight headed from southern California to Seattle on Wednesday, according to authorities.

The moisture-rich tropical storm, known as an atmospheric river, has lashed Northern California with rain and snow since late Tuesday. The moisture flow, nicknamed the “Pineapple Express” for its origin near Hawaii, unleashed its full force overnight.

Power lines, trees and car-sized boulders littered roads in San Diego County and flash flood warnings were in place after regions like Palomar Mountain got nearly 10 inches (25 cm) of rain, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

WILDFIRE AREAS AT RISK

To the north, Venado, a town near San Francisco famed for its rainfall, got more than one foot of precipitation over 48 hours.

Areas, particularly at risk, were those that suffered deadly wildfires in the last two years, leaving scorched hillsides devoid of vegetation and prone to collapse.

Residents in Northern California’s Butte County – where the Camp fire killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures last year – were told to leave their homes over concerns a creek could overflow and flood communities.

Hundreds of people in Lake Elsinore, 56 miles east of Los Angeles, got mandatory evacuation orders on fears hillsides scorched by the 2018 Holy Fire could turn into debris flows.

To the north Redding, the town devastated by the Carr Fire in 2018, was hit with around 14 inches of snow that shut down Interstate 5 south of the Oregon border and knocked out power to thousands of customers.

A couple more feet of snow was expected to fall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California through Friday, said NWS meteorologist Hannah Chandler-Cooley in Sacramento.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)

Inmates shiver in frigid cells at New York jail, lawmakers say

Protesters attend a rally at Metropolitan Detention Center demanding that heat is restored for the inmates in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 2, 2019. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Inmates at a federal jail in Brooklyn have suffered for days without heat or power during a wintry cold snap, according to lawyers and U.S. lawmakers who rallied outside the jail on Saturday demanding the problems be fixed and ill inmates moved.

A fire last Sunday at the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center cut off power and heat to parts of the jail just as freezing Arctic air began rolling towards the East Coast, according to motions filed this week in federal court by lawyers from the Federal Defenders who represent some of the inmates.

Since then, at least some of the more than 1,600 men and women incarcerated at the jail have suffered in near-freezing temperatures and in darkness after the sun goes down while locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, according to the court filings. On Wednesday night, the temperature in New York City dropped to nearly 0 Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius.)

“Inmates were wrapped head to toe in towels and blankets,” Deirdre von Dornum, who oversees the Federal Defenders’ Brooklyn team, said in a telephone interview on Saturday, recounting her tour of the jail the day before. “Their windows were frosted over. Even more disturbingly perhaps for the inmates, their cells were pitch black and they don’t have flashlights.”

She said senior officials at the jail were “indifferent” to the problems during her tour even as guards complained to her of the cold. The power problems have also meant inmates cannot easily call family or lawyers nor get any needed medication refilled, lawyers said.

Telephone calls to the jail went unanswered on Saturday, but it said in a statement that power had been affected in one building and that repair work should be completed on Monday. Additional blankets, provided by New York City’s government, and clothing were to be given to inmates on Saturday, the statement said. A notice on the jail’s website said all visits have been suspended until further notice.

Officials at the jail and the Bureau of Prisons had said in emails this week to the New York Times, which first reported the problems on Friday, that the cells still had heat and hot water.

One inmate, Dino Sanchez, has only a short-sleeved jumpsuit, a T-shirt and a single standard-issue thin blanket to keep him warm, according to a court filing by his attorney. Sanchez has asthma, which the cold has exacerbated, and fears collapsing in the dark without anyone noticing and coming to his aid, his lawyer wrote.

Nydia Velazquez, who represents parts of New York City in the U.S. House of Representatives, was one of the lawmakers who visited the jail on Saturday. She said the Bureau of Prisons was disregarding inmates’ rights.

“This appalling situation needs to be fixed,” she wrote on Twitter. She noted that some heat had been restored, but that the heating system was still “not at full capacity” and that staff at the jail were still complaining about the cold on Saturday.

Hugh Hurwitz, the Bureau of Prisons’ acting director, told lawmakers in telephone conversations he agreed that conditions in the jail were “unacceptable”, according to Velazquez.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a brief statement that the conditions at the jail were unconstitutional and demanded an immediate fix.

Judge Analisa Torres ordered the Bureau of Prisons to produce witnesses at a hearing in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday to explain how the complaints raised by inmates’ lawyers were being addressed.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Worst is over for winter storm that clobbered U.S. Midwest, D.C. and New England

Visitors make their way through snow left by Winter Storm Gia, which paralyzed much of the nation's midsection, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The deadly winter storm that clobbered a swath of the U.S. Midwest and East Coast over the weekend is blowing out to sea but leaves as much as 13 inches of snow in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, and frigid arctic air parked over New England.

All Washington D.C. federal offices would be closed on Monday, but train and bus service in the metro D.C. area would resume after being shut down on Sunday, officials said.

“There’s some digging out to do,” Jim Hayes, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said early Monday.

“In Virginia, D.C. and Maryland, 6-to-12 inches of snow fell with some places getting 13 inches,” he said.

The good news is that around noon on Monday the clouds should start clearing and temperatures will rise into the low 40’s Fahrenheit, Hayes said.

The snowstorm is blamed for the deaths of at least eight people in road accidents across the U.S. Midwest and possibly also the death of an Illinois state police officer who was killed on Saturday during a traffic stop, officials said.

Air traffic at Ronald Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport was returning to normal. Early on Monday, fewer than 400 flights were canceled in affected areas and about 1,600 were delayed, according the online flight tracking site FlightAware.

At the height of the storm, more than 1,600 flights were canceled in and out of U.S. airports on Sunday, the bulk of them at Washington’s Reagan and Dulles, the website reported.

Winter storm warnings for millions of Americans in 10 states and Washington, D.C., were being lifted early Monday in a swath of the United States from Colorado to the East Coast, Hayes said.

“But up north it’s going to stay cold,” Hayes said.

Boston temperatures will creep up from the teens (Fahrenheit) into the low 20s. Temperatures in Portland, Maine will top-out at 11 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 12 Celsius) as a core of Arctic air stays parked over New England, Hayes said.

“The worst is in Big Black River, Maine,” said Hayes. “It hit minus 20 (minus 29 Celsius) overnight.”

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Peter Graff)

Blizzard bears down on New England, knocking out power

A tractor stands covered in snow during a snowstorm in Huntington, New York, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) – Driving snow enveloped the U.S. Northeast on Tuesday in its third winter storm in two weeks, closing schools, canceling flights and knocking out power to about 140,000 homes and businesses.

The nor’easter was forecast to drop up to 20 inches (51 cm) of snow. It followed two storms that rumbled up the East Coast this month, killing at least nine people and knocking out power to about 2.4 million homes and businesses at their peak.

The storm stretched from New York state to Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. Forecasters warned of blizzard conditions, where high winds make travel dangerous, from coastal Massachusetts through Maine.

“We’re anticipating that we’ll be seeing through the mid- to late morning and probably into midafternoon snowfall rates of 1 to 3 inches per hour (up to 7.6 cm),” said Bob Thompson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts.

About 140,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey lost power as the storm downed trees and power lines.

“As soon as the snow stops and the wind stops blowing, we will be pushing the utilities to give people a sense of when the power will come back on,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker told reporters on Tuesday. “They will move quickly and aggressively to deal with this once the snow stops.”

Schools in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, were shut on Tuesday, Maine’s state legislature canceled its session, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy closed all government offices and the Amtrak passenger rail line halted service between Boston and New York.

More than 1,500 U.S. flights were canceled, according to tracking service FlightAware. The hardest-hit airport was Boston Logan, where about four out of five flights were called off.

Nor’easters are storms that typically bring strong winds from the northeast, and they tend to occur most often and most violently between September and April along the East Coast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says.

Some nor’easters carry hurricane-force winds. Winds were expected to reach 65 miles (105 km) per hour, forecasters said.

This storm’s heavy snow could down trees weakened by the last two storms and bring a fresh wave of power outages, officials warned.

Lower tides meant the storm would probably not bring a repeat of the flooding that sent icy water pouring into the streets of Boston during a storm early this month, forecasters and officials said.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; additional reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York; editing by Bill Rigby and Jonathan Oatis)