Winter storm leaves Ohio to dig out of icy snow, moves on to Northeast

By Kathleen Foody and Jill Bleed - Associated Press

A major winter storm that already cut electric power to about 350,000 homes and businesses from Texas to Ohio was set to leave Pennsylvania and New England glazed in ice and smothered in snow Friday, forecasters said.

The storm disrupted flights at major hubs in the U.S. on Friday morning, including airports in New York City, Boston and Dallas.

More snow was forecast, but it was the ice that threatened to wreak havoc on travel and electric service in the Northeast before the storm heads out to sea late Friday and Saturday, said Rick Otto, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

“Snow is a lot easier to plow than ice,” he said.

Even after the storm pushes off to sea late Friday and Saturday, ice and snow were expected to linger through the weekend because of subfreezing temperatures, Otto said.

Parts of New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont had snowfall reports of a foot or more Friday morning, according to the weather service.

About 350,000 homes and businesses lost power from Texas to Ohio on Thursday as freezing rain and snow weighed down tree limbs and encrusted power lines, part of a winter storm that caused a deadly tornado in Alabama, dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of the Midwest and brought rare measurable snowfall to Texas.

The icy weather is blamed for widespread power outages in the Memphis, Tennessee, area, where more than 125,000 homes and businesses were without power Friday morning, according to the website, which tracks utility reports. Nearly 85,000 homes and businesses in Ohio were without electricity.

Many schools and businesses remained closed Friday in areas hit by the wintry weather a day earlier because roads remained icy and temperatures never rose above freezing.

Along the warmer side of the storm, in western Alabama, Hale County Emergency Management Director Russell Weeden told WBRC-TV a tornado that hit a rural area Thursday afternoon killed one person, a female he found under rubble, and critically injured three others. A home was heavily damaged, he said.

Tornadoes in the winter are unusual but possible, and scientists have said the atmospheric conditions needed to cause a tornado have intensified as the planet warms.

The flight-tracking service 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 flight cancellations. Wednesday night, the airport provided pillows, blankets, diapers and infant formula to an estimated 700 marooned travelers and were ready Thursday night “to provide assistance in anticipation of customers who may need to stay in the terminals,” according to an airport statement.

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 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. Public works and utility officials in Memphis said it could take days for power to be restored in the city.

Freezing rain and sleet that caused ice accumulation on trees — making them sag and lose heavy limbs that dropped onto streets, homes and cars — stopped Thursday evening. But banging sounds from falling tree limbs continued through the night in residential neighborhoods.

By Kathleen Foody and Jill Bleed

Associated Press