ATLANTA — 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. Highway patrols were reporting hundreds of vehicle accidents, and a tornado ripped through a trailer park in Florida.
The storm was making air travel extremely difficult in some parts of the South. More than 1,200 Sunday flights at Charlotte Douglas International were cancelled – more than 90% 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 its main hub, 350 Sunday flights had been canceled by early afternoon.
By noon Sunday, between 8 and 12 inches (20 and 30 centimeters) of snow had fallen in some counties of North Carolina, while significant icing was causing problems in the central part of the state.
Gov. Roy Cooper said during a noon news briefing that more than 41,000 homes and businesses were without power. Three shelters have been opened and more were on standby around the state for people without power or heat. Cooper urged people stay home and off the roads.
Col. Freddy Johnson Jr., commander of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, said that by late morning, the agency had responded to 200 car crashes and 460 calls for service.
Cooper said a short section of Interstate 95 was closed in both directions in Robeson County due to low-hanging, ice-covered power lines. He said crews were working to reopen the road and traffic was moving through a short detour.
Transportation Secretary J. Eric Boyette said many roads in the central and western part of the state were covered with ice. He said the eastern part of the state was being hit with high winds and rain.
“Travel is treacherous across much of our state,” Boyette said.
More than 250,000 customers were without power by late morning Sunday, according to poweroutage.us. Especially hard hit 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.
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 semitruck 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’.”
In Tennessee, there were multiple reports of abandoned and wrecked cars on snow-covered roads, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office in Franklin said.
“We also strongly advise you to stay home and stay off the roads. It’s dangerous out there,” the office tweeted Sunday.
The West Virginia Department of Homeland Security tweeted photos of snow-covered roads in the southern part of the state and advised residents to “keep calm and hunker down.” The agency says the storm is moving north and most areas of the state are expected to have accumulations of at least 4 inches (10 centimeters), with up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) possible in the mountains.
A wintry mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow that moved into Kentucky was expected to transition into all snow later Sunday, the National Weather Service in Louisville said.
After lashing the South, the storm was expected to bring frigid and snowy conditions to the Northeast. New York City was expected to be spared from most, if not all, of the snowfall, but Long Island and Connecticut coastal areas were expecting gale conditions. 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 (96 kph) across Long Island and widespread coastal flooding there and in Connecticut by Monday morning.
Six to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of snow was expected in parts of east-central Ohio and western Pennsylvania from Sunday afternoon, resulting in slick and hazardous road conditions.
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.
Associated Press reporters Dave Porter in New York City; Jeff Martin in Woodstock, Georgia; Rebecca Reynolds in Simpsonville, Kentucky; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Ron Todt in Philadelphia; and Collin Binkley in Killington, Vermont contributed to this report.
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