Six die as US winter storm spawns tornadoes


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The Independent US

A powerful winter storm that spawned tornadoes from Texas to Alabama, killing at least six people and leaving thousands without power, is bringing heavy snow to the Midwest and threatening rain and high wind in the East.

A blizzard warning stretches from northeastern Arkansas to Cleveland, Ohio, where almost 14 inches (35.6 centimeters) of snow is expected to fall by Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. Winter storm warnings are in effect from Illinois into Maine.

"The storm right now is over Tennessee and heavy snow is falling over southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio," said Gary Best, a meteorologist with Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, N.H. "On the other side, to the east, there is heavy rain and thunderstorms from Florida, Georgia and into North and South Carolina."

On Tuesday, 532 flights nationwide were canceled and 900 have been scrubbed so far Wednesday, according to Flight Aware, a Houston-based airline tracking service. Most of Wednesday's cancellations are in Indianapolis, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, Washington Dulles, New York's LaGuardia and Cleveland, the company said.

Wind and rain along the coast will probably tie up air traffic from Charlotte, N.C., to New York City, while the heavy snow causes problems at airports across the Midwest, Best said.

Homes, hospitals and businesses were damaged from Texas to Florida by tornadoes and high winds from the storm yesterday, and at least 16 people were injured, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. The Associated Press reported at least six people killed.

More than 243,000 homes and businesses were without power at about 8 a.m. Wednesday New York time, most of them in Arkansas, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from utility websites and company spokesmen.

Entergy Arkansas, the state's largest utility, reported 191,293 customers blacked out. An additional 16,525 were without power in western Arkansas and nearby counties in Louisiana and Texas, American Electric Power's Southwestern Electric Power reported on its website.

Coastal North Carolina has the largest chance of being raked by tornadoes and high winds Wednesday, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The area has a 15 percent chance of experiencing a tornado and 46 percent chance of being buffeted by strong winds.

High wind warnings have also been issued from New York City to eastern Massachusetts, including Boston.

Two inches of rain may fall in New York City overnight. There is a threat of coastal flooding in New York and Long Island during high tide later Wednesday, according to the weather service. Tides may be 3 to 5 feet above normal from 8 p.m. to midnight.

"Widespread flooding of vulnerable shore roads and/or basements due to storm tide and wave action," the weather service said. "Road closures may be needed."

A flood watch has also been posted for eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey, including Philadelphia and Trenton, where as much as two inches of rain may fall, flooding roads and sending streams out of their banks.

Best said the track of the storm will spare the large East Coast cities from Philadelphia to Boston any significant snowfall.

"If it was farther south and east, the big cities would get walloped by snow," Best said. "The farther west and north of the track you go, that is where there will be double-digit snowfall amounts."

Syracuse, N.Y., may receive as much as 13 inches of snow by Thursday and Erie, Penn., may get 17 inches, according to the weather service.

The storm will also bring snow to Canada, where Toronto is forecast to receive about 4 inches and parts of southern Ontario as much as 6 inches, according to Environment Canada.


— With assistance from Jim Polson in New York.