Weather and Natural Disasters

Monster winter storm cripples South, kills 3 across US

Woman walking during a snow storm in Manhattan, New York City on February 02, 2014.
Cem Ozdel | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Millions of Americans were struggling under a winter storm that blocked roads and covered airports in treacherous ice across the South Saturday, threatening to paralyze transportation from Alabama all the way to New York City.

Three died from weather-related causes in Oregon, Kentucky and Maine, according to The Weather Channel.

Parts of North Carolina and Virginia were forecast to see up to a foot of snow while roads in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama were coated in ice, leading to hundreds of accidents. Charlotte, North Carolina, reported Saturday morning that 35 accidents, some with minor injuries, had occurred since 10 p.m. Friday.

There were long lines at stores as shoppers stocked up on bottled water and groceries Friday.

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By early Saturday, the snow had reached as far north the New Jersey shoreline as it spread up the Atlantic coast. Blizzard warnings were in place for parts of Massachusetts through Sunday morning.

More than 50 flights were canceled at New York JFK and Newark airports early Saturday. Delta canceled 175 flights, most of which were into and out of its hub in Atlanta, due to the accumulation of ice at the airport there.

Road workers manning 12-hour shifts treated roads in advance after states of emergency were declared in Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas — racing the storm as it closed in on a swath of the Southeast with a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain.

Sleet and snow fell on the northwest suburbs of Atlanta while rain and freezing rain brought slush to the city's streets but there was no immediate repeat of the January 2014 gridlock in which many drivers wound up stranded in their cars.

Police in Alabama said roads in parts of the state were impassable, including Anniston and Oxford. State troopers said they had responded to several weather-related crashes and warned that ice-covered bridges were hazardous in the area of Birmingham.

North Carolina's new governor, Roy Cooper, said a state of emergency had been declared in all of the state's 100 counties. He said one person had died but it was yet to be determined with certainty that the death was weather-related.

As of 6 a.m., Cooper said, there had been 260 road accidents in the state, and 18,000 people were without electricity.

And he said the weather would only get worse.

"We are expecting significantly colder weather and the wind will pick up, increasing risk for power outages," he said, adding that the drop in temperatures would cause roads to refreeze. "Stay home," the governor said. "Do not go out and drive on the road unless you absolutely have to."

In Nashville, Tennessee, the weather was blamed for hundreds of fender benders, some involving school buses, on roads that were coated by 1 to 2 inches of snow early Friday. Nashville's city school district had ordered classes to start on schedule but had to hastily call early dismissals as police reports of minor crashes multiplied. All students made it home safely.

"We apologize," Nashville Schools Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson said. "We realize that it's been very frustrating for everyone."

In North Carolina, the storm threat sent new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper scrambling to his Executive Mansion ballroom Friday for an abridged swearing-in ceremony. A larger outdoor ceremony Saturday organized for thousands had to be scrapped, along with a parade.

"Consider yourselves the chosen few," Cooper joked to the well-wishers who made it to his 20-minute oath-taking.

Lauren Rathbone, the manager of a hardware store in Durham, North Carolina, estimated the store sold nearly 7 tons of ice melt in 50- and 10-pound bags, along with hundreds of shovels — not to mention a number of sleds.

Describing the mood of customers, she said all was good until items began selling out: "Up until about 10 o'clock: Happy, excited, and 'at least I got my stuff.' After 10 o'clock: 'Why the hell ain't you got anything?'"

Winter weather was also slamming parts of the West, causing dangerous conditions and drawing skiers to the slopes. The storm dumped six feet of snow atop the Sierra Nevada and, in Colorado, heavy snow and strong winds raised the danger of avalanches.