US South suffering from rare chilling experience

Published on : Wednesday, January 29, 2014

US-flag-300x168WINSTON-SALEM/CHICAGO: A very rare blast of snow, sleet and ice hit the US south on Tuesday, prompting schools to close, airlines to cancel flights and emergency officials to warn of icy roads.

The winter storm could extend from southern Louisiana and the Gulf Coast into northern Florida and through the Carolinas, the weather service said.

Parts of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina will likely see significant icing, while light to heavy snow is expected in some parts of the southern Mid-Atlantic states.

Ice could also be a problem, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Leary in Atlanta. “It’s certainly a possibility on overpasses,” Leary said.

In South Carolina, lawmakers cancelled this week’s session of the state legislature ahead of the expected wintry mix. In Mississippi, emergency management officials told residents to prepare for power outages and hazardous driving conditions.

“This is a very dangerous situation because snow and ice are very rare for extreme southern Mississippi,” Mississippi Emergency Management Agency director Robert Latham said in a statement. “We need everyone to have an emergency plan together for this.”

Air travel across the region was taking a hit early on Tuesday, with more than 2,800 US flights cancelled and hundreds of others delayed, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.com.

Winter weather advisories also went out for a wide swath of eastern and central Texas for Tuesday, with forecasters predicting up to 1 inch (2.5 cm) of snow near the state’s border with northern Louisiana.

Freezing temperatures and rain snarled the morning commute through large parts of central Texas and Louisiana, where roads and bridges were iced over. Police in Austin, Texas, reported about 100 crashes caused by icy roads but said there had been no fatalities.

In New Orleans, jury selection in the corruption trial of a former mayor was suspended due to the cold weather.

Meanwhile. bitter cold and high winds from the arctic pushed wind chills to dangerous levels across the US upper midwest on Monday, forcing officials to close schools and slowing public transit and river traffic.

Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and other parts of the upper midwest are forecast to have a second consecutive day of subzero highs on Tuesday, while most of the northeast will see highs in the single digits and teens on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Accuweather.com.

National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Krein blamed the weather on a surge of arctic high pressure out of Canada that has spread over the upper midwest and central plains.

“I’m real sick of it,” said Romik Stewart, 20, who was waiting for a bus in Milwaukee to go to his job at a fast food restaurant. “I’ve had enough of this already. It’s too much.”

The weather will force schools to close on Tuesday in New Orleans, Minneapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee, and government offices in Indianapolis, Galveston and Milwaukee County will also be closed.

Tulane University in New Orleans, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and The Ohio State
University in Columbus have cancelled classes ahead of Tuesday’s storm.

Amtrak has also cancelled a number of train routes in and out of Chicago on Tuesday because of the frigid weather conditions.

For much of the south, a winter storm warning will be in effect on Tuesday, including in New Orleans where winds will gust and ice and snow will accumulate on the roads, making travel hazardous, according to the National Weather Service.

Heavy snow was expected beginning on Tuesday across eastern North Carolina, while coastal South Carolina will get rare ice accumulation with some snow and temperatures will be below freezing on Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Weather Service predicts.

The frigid temperatures also were causing ice to accumulate on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, slowing the movement of grain barges to the US Gulf, according to Drew Lerner, a meteorologist at World Weather Inc.

“I’m very ready for the spring,” said 18-year-old Caroline Burns, a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, as she walked from her residence hall to class.

Wind gusts of up to 35 mph (56 km) knocked down power lines in the Dallas-Forth Worth area in Texas and temperatures were expected to fall into the 20s overnight from highs in the 60s and 70s over the weekend, the weather service said.

In Alaska, the roughly 4,000 residents of Valdez remained cut off to road traffic from the rest of the state Monday after weekend avalanches blocked the road to the coastal town, officials said.

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