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. 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.
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.
First Sgt. Christopher Knox, a spokesman for the North Carolina Highway Patrol, said that by midafternoon, the agency had responded to 300 car crashes and nearly 800 calls for service. Two people died Sunday when their car drove off the road and into trees in a median east of Raleigh. The driver and passenger, both 41-year-old South Carolina residents, were pronounced dead at the scene of the single-vehicle crash. Knox said investigators believe excessive speed for the conditions — described as mixed winter precipitation – caused the crash.
Meanwhile, 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.
Kristen Baker Morrow’s 6-year-old son made snow angels after their home in Crouse, North Carolina, got four inches of snow Sunday morning, but she said they couldn’t stay outside long because of the uncomfortable wind chill.
“It took 30 to 45 minutes to get everything on for about 10 minutes in the snow, but it was definitely worth it for him, to get our pictures and make some memories,” said Morrow, a 35-year-old register nurse.
More than 260,000 customers were without power by midafternoon Sunday, according to poweroutage.us. Especially hard hit was North Carolina, with 90,000 outages. The remaining outages were in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado struck southwest Florida. Officials in Lee County say 27 mobile homes were destroyed and 24 incurred major damage. There were no reports of serious injuries.
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’.”
Virginia State Police said traffic came to a standstill Sunday afternoon on Interstate 81 in Roanoke County after a tractor-trailer jackknifed and the cab of the truck disconnected from the trailer in the northbound lanes. Two additional accidents occurred in the traffic backup, one with minor injuries. The Virginia Department of Transportation said a detour was being set up. “Please stay off the roads if possible. Begging again! Hazardous conditions,” read a tweet from VDOT’s Salem office.
From midnight to 12:45 p.m., Virginia state troopers responded to 142 traffic crashes and 162 disabled vehicles. No traffic fatalities were reported.
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.
In Tennessee, there were multiple reports of abandoned and wrecked cars on snow-covered roads.
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.
Six to 13 inches (15 to 33 centimeters) of snow was expected in parts of east-central Ohio and western Pennsylvania from Sunday afternoon.
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.