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Storm that slugged South, Midwest brings misery to Northeast

Winter Weather Texas
Posted at 2:46 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 14:46:36-05

A major winter storm spread misery from the Deep South, where ice-covered tree limbs snapped and a tornado claimed a life, to the nation's northeastern tip where snow and ice caused havoc for travelers on Friday. Hundreds of thousands were without electricity.

More than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow fell in parts Pennsylvania, New York and New England on Friday but there were bigger worries about roads and sidewalks freezing over because of plummeting temperatures after the snow blows out to sea late Friday and Saturday.

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," Hochul said. "The weather is wildly unpredictable."

Utility crews were making progress after about 350,000 homes and businesses were in the dark Thursday in an area stretching from Texas to Ohio. Additional power outages were reported in New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

One of the hardest-hit paces was Memphis, where 120,000 customers were without power in Shelby County alone, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports.

Memphis resident Michael LaRosa described cracking and banging as the tree limbs fell, and the dull hum and pop of transformers blowing out in his tree-lined Midtown neighborhood. A fire started at the end of his street, caused by a live wire on Thursday.

"It was pretty surreal for a little while," LaRosa, a professor at Rhodes College and a book editor, said Friday. "There were people walking in the streets, and I was worried that limbs were going to fall on them. The neighborhood sort of collapsed pretty quickly and pretty spectacularly."

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.

It's also going to take days to clear 225 downed trees on city streets, and crews were working 16-hour shifts to get it done, Robert Knecht, Memphis' public works director, said Thursday night.

With many schools closed, kids took advantage of the snowy weather to enjoy themselves, but a fun outing turned tragic in Oklahoma where a 12-year-old boy was killed while sledding on Thursday. Police said Friday they were investigating the hit-and-run crash in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow.

Tragedy also struck western Alabama, where a tornado on Thursday killed one person and critically injured three others, Hale County Emergency Management Director Russell Weeden told local news outlets.

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.

Airlines scrubbed about 3,400 flights by midday Friday, with the highest numbers of cancellations at Dallas-Fort Worth and airports in the New York City area and Boston, according to tracking service FlightAware.

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.

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 in Saugerties were OK, she said. Large animals took shelter in barns and smaller animals were taken to offices, the infirmary and other places to keep safe from falling trees.

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.

In New England, some places welcomed the winter weather, which was a boon for skiers and snowmobilers.

In Vermont, no one was complaining Friday at the Stowe Mountain Resort where skiers and snowboarders reported some of the best conditions of the season, with more than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow overnight, and snow continuing to fall.

"We're just having a blast, the sauce is flowing," said Jared Marshall, of Denmark, Maine, a member of the ski team of New Hampshire's Colby Sawyer College in town for a ski meet.

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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; Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont; Marina Villeneuve and Michael Hill in Albany, New York; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas; David Koenig, 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.