ATLANTA (AP) — A dangerous winter storm combining high winds and ice swept 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. More than an inch of snow fell per hour in some parts of the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia, according to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.
The storm was making air travel extremely difficult in some parts of the South. The nation’s hardest-hit airport — Charlotte Douglas International — remained open around dawn Sunday, the airport said in a weather briefing. But more than 1,000 Sunday flights in Charlotte have been canceled – more than 80% of the airport’s Sunday schedule, according to the flight tracking service flightaware.com. Charlotte is a major hub in the South for American Airlines.
In Atlanta, where Delta Air Lines operates its main hub, more than 300 Sunday flights have been canceled.
Conditions were expected to continue to deteriorate later Sunday, and possible ground stops were possible at airports in the Washington, D.C. area, the Federal Aviation Administration said in its air traffic control plan for Sunday.
Parts of North Carolina were under a winter storm warning until Monday morning. Raleigh was experiencing a mix of frozen precipitation.
Frank Pereira, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said to expect a “significant ice storm across portions of the central Carolinas,” including the Charlotte metropolitan area.
In the Asheville area, local television footage showed snow accumulation covering the streets with white. Buncombe County closed all parks, libraries and solid waste facilities through Monday. In Boone to the northeast, Appalachian State University suspended many operations on Sunday and told all but certain essential workers to remain away from campus until at least Monday morning.
By early Sunday, more than 100,000 customers were without power in Georgia but the vast majority of them were northeast of the metro Atlanta area, in the northeast Georgia mountains, according to poweroutage.US, which tracks outages nationwide. Rabun County, in Georgia’s northeast corner, was hardest hit with more than half the customers there without power. About 50,000 customers were without power in South Carolina, and 11,000 customers in North Carolina had no power.
Crews pretreated roadways in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia but officials still urged people to stay off them unless travel was necessary. The Tennessee Highway Patrol said in a tweet that some roads in East Tennessee were snow-covered and that troopers were working several accidents due to ice.
In Greenville, South Carolina, an out-of-the-ordinary snowfall coated roads before changing to ice. Much of the state was under a winter storm warning, with winds as high as 40 mph (64 kph).
The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado struck southwest Florida, with local media reporting some damage of unknown severity. The Florida Highway Patrol reported that a large tornado crossed Interstate 75 near Naples, causing a semi-truck to overturn. Minor injuries were reported. Florida Power and Light reported that about 16,000 customers in southwest Florida were without power.
After lashing the South, weather forecasters say the Northeast can expect similar conditions.
While New York City was expected to be spared from most, if not all, of the snowfall from the winter storm, coastal areas on Long Island and Connecticut were expecting high winds and gale conditions, and upstate New York was projected to get hit with up to a foot of snow to go along with high winds. The National Weather Service forecast winds of up to 60 mph across Long Island and widespread coastal flooding there and in Connecticut by Monday morning. In upstate New York, temperatures in the single digits were projected to rise into the 20s and bring heavy snow beginning Sunday night and lasting until Monday night.
Six to 12 inches of snow was expected in parts of east-central Ohio and western Pennsylvania from Sunday afternoon, resulting in slick and hazardous road conditions. In parts of eastern Pennsylvania, forecasters expected three to five inches of snow early changing to a wintry mix including sleet and freezing rain or completely rain.
Associated Press reporters Dave Porter in New York City; Jeff Martin in Woodstock, Georgia; Rebecca Reynolds in Simpsonville, Kentucky; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Ron Todt in Philadelphia contributed to this report.