Northeast grapples with icy roads as storm blows out to sea

February 5, 2022 GMT

A major winter storm spread misery from the Deep South where a tornado claimed a life and tree limbs snapped under the weight of heavy ice all the way to the nation’s northeastern trip where snow and ice caused havoc for travelers on Friday. Hundreds of thousands were without electricity.

In Oklahoma, police were investigating the hit-and-run death of a 12-year-old boy who was sledding when he was hit by a vehicle.

More than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow fell in parts Pennsylvania, New York and New England on Friday but it was freezing rain and ice, accompanied by plummeting temperatures, that threatened to cause the biggest problems for travel and electric service before the storm blows out to sea late Friday and Saturday.

“Snow is a lot easier to plow than ice,” said Rick Otto, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

About 350,000 homes and businesses lost power in an area stretching from Texas to Ohio on Thursday as freezing rain and snow brought down branches and encased power lines. On Friday morning, the power outages were concentrated in Tennessee, Ohio, New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.

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In Memphis, crews worked Friday to remove trees and downed power lines from city streets, while those who lost electricity spent a cold night at home, or sought refuge at hotels or homes of friends and family. Utility officials said it could take days for power to be restored in the city.

There were 225 downed trees on city streets and crews were working 16-hour shifts to clear them, Robert Knecht, Memphis’ public works director, said Thursday night.

“It’s going to take multiple days, given the inclement weather conditions, to clear the public right of way,” he said.

Many schools and businesses remained closed Friday in areas hit by the frigid weather because roads remained icy and temperatures hadn’t risen above freezing.

Flights were disrupted at major hubs in the U.S. on Friday, including airports in New York City, Boston and Dallas.

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The storm represented a “highly energized system” with waves of low pressure riding along like a train from Texas, where there was snowfall and subfreezing temperatures, to Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, said Hunter Tubbs, meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Maine.

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In western Alabama, a tornado on Thursday killed one person, critically injured three others and heavily damaged a home, Hale County Emergency Management Director Russell Weeden told WBRC-TV.

Tornadoes in the winter are unusual, but the atmospheric conditions needed to cause them have intensified as the planet warms, scientists say.

The flight-tracking service FlightAware.com showed more than 9,000 flights in the U.S. scheduled for Thursday or Friday had been canceled, on top of more than 2,000 cancellations Wednesday as the storm began.

For a second straight night, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport officials mobilized to accommodate travelers stranded at the American Airlines hub overnight by cancellations.

The Ohio Valley was especially affected Thursday, with 211 flight cancellations at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Thursday. Nearly all Thursday afternoon and evening flights were canceled at the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport. UPS suspended some operations Thursday at its Worldport hub at the airport, a rare move.

Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed Friday at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Boston’s Logan Airport and Newark Liberty Airport.

In the Pittsburgh area, commuter rail service was halted Friday when a power line went down, trapping cars at a Port Authority of Allegheny County rail yard.

“With temperatures not expected to rise much throughout the day, quick repairs and restoration of the rail system will be difficult but our crews are out there trying as hard as they can,” the port authority tweeted.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul warned residents to stay home if possible to avoid ice-coated roadways and the threat of falling tree limbs in the Hudson Valley and Capital regions. “We’re not out of the danger zone yet,” she said.

In New York’s Hudson Valley, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary was relying on generators for power Friday after the overnight ice storm.

“We had trees down all over the property and trees down on our road,” said Kathy Stevens, founder of the refuge for rescued farm animals. But the roughly 250 animals at the sanctuary in Saugerties were OK, she said.

In Texas, the return of subfreezing weather brought heightened anxiety nearly a year after February 2021’s catastrophic freeze that buckled the state’s power grid for days, leading to hundreds of deaths in one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history. But Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday’s power outages were due to high winds or downed power lines, not grid failures. About 18,000 homes and businesses in Texas remained without power Friday morning.

The storm came on the heels of a nor’easter last weekend that brought blizzard conditions to many parts of the East Coast.

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Sharp reported from Portland, Maine; Foody reported from Chicago; and Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writers Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; Marina Villeneuve and Michael Hill in Albany, New York; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; Jake Bleiberg and Terry Wallace in Dallas; Paul Davenport in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis and Jay Reeves in Alabaster, Alabama, contributed to this report.