ATLANTA (AP) — A dangerous winter storm combining high winds and ice was sweeping through parts of the U.S. Southeast on Sunday, knocking out power, felling trees and fences and coating roads with a treacherous frigid glaze.
Tens of thousands of customers were without power in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. More than an inch of snow fell per hour in some parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.
The storm was making air travel extremely difficult in some parts of the South. The nation’s hardest-hit airport — Charlotte Douglas International — remained open around dawn Sunday, the airport said in a weather briefing. But more than 1,000 Sunday flights in Charlotte have been cancelled – more than 80% of the airport’s Sunday schedule, according to the flight tracking service flightaware.com. Charlotte is a major hub in the South for American Airlines.
In Atlanta, where Delta Air Lines operates it main hub, more than 300 Sunday flights have been canceled.
Conditions were expected to continue to deteriorate later Sunday, and possible ground stops were possible at airports in the Washington, D.C. area, the Federal Aviation Administration said in its air traffic control plan for Sunday.
Parts of North Carolina were under a winter storm warning until Monday morning. Raleigh was experiencing a mix of frozen precipitation.
Frank Pereira, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said to expect a “significant ice storm across portions of the central Carolinas,” including the Charlotte metropolitan area.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation said Sunday that Interstate 95 was closed in both directions between Lumberton and Fayetteville due to low-hanging power lines. Freezing rain had been reported in the area. Transportation officials advised drivers to take a detour and said they hope to reopen the road by 2 p.m.
More than 250,000 customers were without power by late morning Sunday, according to poweroutage.us. Especially hard was Georgia, with nearly 110,000 outages. South Carolina had nearly 90,000 customers without power. The remaining outages were in Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Crews pretreated roadways in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia but officials still urged people to stay off them unless travel was necessary. The Tennessee Highway Patrol said in a tweet that some roads in East Tennessee were snow-covered and that troopers were working several accidents due to ice.
In Greenville, South Carolina, an out-of-the-ordinary snowfall coated roads before changing to ice. Much of the state was under a winter storm warning, with winds as high as 40 mph (64 kph).
The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado struck southwest Florida. The Florida Highway Patrol reported that a large tornado crossed Interstate 75 near Naples, causing a semi-truck to overturn. Minor injuries were reported. Florida Power and Light reported that about 16,000 customers in southwest Florida were without power.
Edward Murray, 81, told the Naples Daily News in southwest Florida that he was inside his mobile home Sunday morning when a tornado picked it up and tossed it on top of his neighbor’s home.
“That’s my house that’s turned upside down,” he told the newspaper. “The tornado took me off my feet blew me toward the east wall and buried me under the sink, refrigerator, kitchen chairs and everything else.”
Murray and his daughter, Cokie, escaped unharmed, crawling from the wreckage.
“I was so happy when I saw the sky,” Murray told the newspaper. “I said to the devil, ‘it’s not going to be today’.”
Lee County firefighters told WINK-TV that 20 homes were destroyed at the Tropicana Mobile Home Resort and one person was injured.
After lashing the South, weather forecasters say the Northeast can expect similar conditions.
While New York City was expected to be spared from most, if not all, of the snowfall from the winter storm, coastal areas on Long Island and Connecticut were expecting high winds and gale conditions, and upstate New York was projected to get hit with up to a foot of snow to go along with high winds. The National Weather Service forecast winds of up to 60 mph across Long Island and widespread coastal flooding there and in Connecticut by Monday morning. In upstate New York, temperatures in the single digits were projected to rise into the 20s and bring heavy snow beginning Sunday night and lasting until Monday night.
Six to 12 inches of snow was expected in parts of east-central Ohio and western Pennsylvania from Sunday afternoon, resulting in slick and hazardous road conditions. In parts of eastern Pennsylvania, forecasters expected three to five inches of snow early changing to a wintry mix including sleet and freezing rain or completely rain.
Frigid temperatures lingered across New England on Sunday, with wind chills in northern Vermont reported at -27 Fahrenheit (-33 Celsius). In Boston, where a cold emergency was declared on Saturday, wind chills remained below zero (-17 C) even as the region started the thaw.