Powerful winter storm leads to deaths, pileups

12:00 AM, Dec 9, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Powerful winter storm leads to deaths, pileups

A surprising swath of heavy snow and ice hit the eastern USA on Sunday - from West Virginia to Philadelphia - dumping snow on NFL fields and causing highway pileups.

The snow came from an arctic blast of frigid air that froze highways in the middle of the country over the weekend and knocked power out to thousands of homes.

The harsh weather was blamed for three deaths around the Dallas area. More than 35,000 homes and businesses in North Texas remained without power as of Sunday afternoon. By late Sunday, snow was expected to blanket the rest of Pennsylvania and reach New York City, and icy rain will make roads treacherous from Kentucky to North Carolina and Virginia, according to Accuweather.com.

Forecasts had predicted 1 to 4 inches of snow across the Northeast, but the system dumped 6 to 12 inches in a swath that stretched from northern West Virginia to Philadelphia and east into New Jersey, said Brian Hurley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center.

"We knew there was going to be some bands of precipitation," Hurley said. "We didn't quite expect it to have the intensity in snowfall that it did."

Warmer air was expected to move in Monday, raising temperatures into the 40s, he said. The rest of the week looks sunny and cold, Hurley said.

Travel delays were expected to worsen Sunday night from the Mid-Atlantic to New England. Ice and perhaps an inch of snow will stick along the Interstate 95 corridor from New York City through Boston to Portland, Maine.

Due to severe weather conditions, communication, power and transportation lines may be disrupted across the Midwest and through the Southeastern regions of the United States.

The auction site eBay warned that severe weather across the country could delay shipments, especially in Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio and Texas. The site urged customers to be patient with shippers.

The lousy weather is something for which the major retailers and shippers do their best to accommodate, but they can only do so much.

"Sure, it drives them crazy," says Dick Seesel, owner of Retailing in Focus, a retail consulting firm. "But you're talking about companies that today operate coast-to-coast." Macy's, for example, which is now a national instead of regional retailer, he says, is much less vulnerable to bad weather in one part of the country when it has operations across the country.

Also, some retailers, including Macy's and Nordstrom, have a unique ability to ship from some of their brick-and-mortar retail locations if their e-commerce hubs have weather issues, Seesel says.

Before purchasing something online during lousy weather, Seesel suggests, it's a good idea to check first with a live customer service agent via phone or online chat to see if the weather might delay shipment.

Blowing snow hurt visibility and traction at football games in Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The snow obscured yard markers, and ground crews tried to keep pace with shovels and even plows. The Detroit Lions fumbled four times playing the Philadelphia Eagles.

Flight delays due to rain and low ceilings may linger through much of Monday along I-95 in the Northeast because of low clouds.

As of Sunday evening, 2,238 flights had been canceled and 5,365 delayed in the USA, according to the tracking site FlightStats.com. The worst hit was Dallas-Fort Worth, which had 1,115 canceled and 379 delayed, according to FlightStats. Philadelphia International Airport had 354 canceled and 328 delayed, while Washington Dulles had 250 canceled and 137 delays.

Flight delays littered the country by late afternoon. The worst were 1 hour and 43 minutes in Philadelphia, more than 1 hour in Newark, and nearly 1 hour at New York's JFK and in Houston, with more than half-hour delays at Washington's Dulles and New York's LaGuardia airports, according to tracking site FlightAware.com.

Snow and ice made roads treacherous across the country. In Texas, a pileup Saturday morning along Interstate 10 involved at least 10 18-wheelers.

In Wisconsin, there were so many crashes along Interstates 94 and 894, as well as I-39 and I-90, that the state patrol hadn't totaled them yet. A fatal rollover occurred on I-94 at Highway 100.

The Arizona Highway Patrol closed Interstate 15 through the Virgin Gorge on Saturday night after icy roads caused several accidents. By Sunday morning, vehicles were allowed to head northbound, but southbound traffic was still closed.

During the night, emergency crews used off-road vehicles and four-wheelers with chains to bring food, blankets and fuel to travelers in about 300 vehicles - including two school buses - stuck in the gorge.

"Even semi trucks with chains on them were sliding around," said Darrell Cashin, spokesman for the Washington County sheriff's search-and-rescue team.

But there were no serious injuries, according to Bart Graves, a high patrol spokesman.

By Monday, precipitation will focus over much of New York state and inland New England, with freezing rain across central Pennsylvania. Heavier snow of 3 to 6 inches will fall in the St. Lawrence Valley.

But road conditions are expected to improve Monday from Washington to New York City, as rain replaces snow, according to AccuWeather. Travel may be slushy and slippery around Boston.

"We're going to see a whole mix of precipitation, anywhere from snow at the onset across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and down to D.C., to sleet and freezing rain in the Shenandoah Valley," says AccuWeather meteorologist Danielle Knittle.

National Weather Service meteorologists in southwest Virginia warned of a "significant winter storm," and state Emergency Management spokeswoman Laura Southard said the storm has the potential to be a "historic ice event."

"This forecast is very concerning to us," Southard said. "I've worked multiple disasters, but I've never worked an ice storm with a forecast like this. It's just really important for everybody to take extra precautions."

Knittle said more than a half-inch of ice buildup expected on I-81, western Virginia and central Maryland's main highway could imperil travel.

Bob Nations Jr., director of the emergency operations command center for the Memphis area, said early Sunday that ice coating roads, bridges and overpasses caused several multi-vehicle crashes. He issued a statement urging drivers to use extreme caution, particularly on bridges and overpasses.

Police in Memphis, meanwhile, urged motorists to stay home altogether if they could avoid travel Sunday.

"It looks like we're going to be stuck with this for one, two, maybe three days," said Memphis attorney Sam Chafetz, who tried to get off the roads before the worst of the storm hit. "I'm not afraid of the ice and snow, I'm afraid of the other drivers who don't know how to drive in it."

The National Weather Service forecast for Monday says showers and thunderstorms will develop over the central Gulf Coast and move into the Southwest and Mid-Atlantic by evening.

Meanwhile, lake-effect snow will develop over the Upper Great Lakes on Monday evening and some additional snow is expected over the Southwest and Southern Rockies. That system could bring snow to the High Plains on Monday and the Upper Mississippi Valley by Monday night, according to the weather service.

Contributing: John Bacon, Ben Mutzabaugh, Donna Leinwand Leger, Doyle Rice, Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY; Associated Press; The Spectrum & Daily News in Utah.


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