Powerful storm lashes eastern U.S. with snow, arctic cold
By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A deadly winter storm hit the U.S. East Coast with freezing rain, snow and near-record cold on Monday, cancelling about 2,900 flights, shutting down Washington and closing schools and local governments.
The latest in a series of weather systems to pummel the winter-weary eastern United States, the storm dumped about 4 inches of snow on the U.S. capital by early evening as it swept from the Mississippi Valley to the Atlantic coast, the National Weather Service said.
Temperatures would be about 30 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) below normal as a cold front settled in from Great Plains to the Atlantic coast, said Brian Hurley, a weather service meteorologist.
Instead of the normal high of around 50 Fahrenheit (10 Celsius), temperatures in the region were plunging into the teens Fahrenheit (minus 8 Celsius), he said.
On Tuesday, federal agencies in the Washington, D.C., area will open two hours later than normal and employees have the option to work from home.
Icy roads in Virginia were blamed for at least one death on Monday morning when a 30-year-old man drove his pickup truck into an embankment, flipping the vehicle and striking a tree, police said. At least four weather-related traffic deaths in Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee were blamed on the wide-ranging storm over the weekend.
Although the snow bypassed northern cities including New York and Boston, by early on Monday New York's temperature had already peaked at 23 F (-5 C), Hurley said.
Freeze warnings were in place from the Canadian border into Texas. The main electric grid operator for most of Texas issued a conservation alert due to expected higher demand, and heavy sleet left about 30,000 homes and businesses in Memphis, Tennessee, out of power, Memphis Light, Gas and Water reported.
The storm shrouded Washington, D.C., in snow and prompted the U.S. government to shutter its area offices, and Congress put off scheduled votes. Some government employees off work shoveled their sidewalks and then took their children sledding in Maryland.
MERCURY STUCK IN SINGLE DIGITS
Steve Zubrick, a weather service meteorologist for the Washington area, said overnight lows were forecast at 9F (-13C). That would be close to the March 1873 record of 4F (-16C), the last time Washington temperatures went below 10F (-12C) in the month of March.
The governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi and Tennessee declared states of emergency, and schools and local governments throughout the area closed. Maryland and West Virginia shut state offices as the storm dumped a foot of snow on the Appalachian Mountains.
In Beckley, West Virginia, the snow forced schools to close, another headache for officials already struggling to make up 15 days of school lost because of weather.
But for student Johnathan Tippley, 15, the day off meant time to grab a snow shovel and make money.
"On a day like this you can make a killing. Plus, there's nothing else to do right now ... might as well make some cash," he said.
The snow meant cold, hard cash for store owners like Clay Butler, who runs Pleasants Hardware in Richmond, Virginia, which sold out a supply of ice melt that had barely been touched in the previous three years.
"It's definitely been good for business. We've sold a lot of shovels," Butler said.
About 2,900 U.S. flights were canceled and nearly 5,000 were delayed on Monday because of the storm, according to airline tracking site FlightAware.com.
The worst-hit airport was Washington's Reagan National, where more than 80 percent of flights were called off.
Esteban Rodriguez, 26, said he was resigned about rescheduling his flight back home to Central America from Reagan National. He said he had grown accustomed to winter weather while studying sustainable energy in Iceland.
"Even I am used to it, and I'm from Guatemala," Rodriguez said as a dozen snowplows labored to clear runways and taxiways of snow.
On the West Coast, a weather front will move onshore over the Pacific Northwest and northern California through Tuesday, bringing much-needed rain and snow to the region, the National Weather Service said.
Snow also is expected over parts of the Rocky Mountains and the northern Great Plains, it said.
(Additional reporting by Gary Robertson in Virginia, Alice Popovici in Maryland, Ann Moore in West Virginia, Tom Ramstack in Washington, Jon Herskovitz in Texas, Tim Ghianni in Tennessee, Barbara Goldberg in New York and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)