Weather

Respite coming after winter cold and storms kill dozens in the US

Warmer temperatures are on the way after weeks of bitter cold and fatal storms moved across the country.

Ice covers trees and benches in New Jersey
Ted Shaffrey / AP
SMS

Two weeks of storms that have turned roads into icy death traps, frozen people to death from Oregon to Tennessee and caused power outages that could take weeks to fix continued to sock both coasts with another round of weather chaos on Friday.

The rain, snow, wind and bitterly cold temperatures have been blamed for at least 55 deaths in the U.S. over the past two weeks as a series of storms moved across the country. Schools and roads have closed, and air traffic has been snarled.

There is hope. The forecast for next week calls for above average temperatures across almost the whole country, according to the National Weather Service.

Heavier-than-forecast snow fell in New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., on Friday and Michigan City, Indiana, received 17 inches of lake-effect snow. But the biggest problems remained in places hit hard by storms earlier in the week.

On the West Coast, Oregon's governor declared a statewide emergency Thursday night, nearly a week after the start of a crippling ice storm.

Thousands have been without power since last weekend in parts of Oregon’s Willamette Valley because of the freezing rain.

“We lost power on Saturday, and we were told yesterday that it would be over two weeks before it’s back on,” said Jamie Kenworthy, a real estate broker in Jasper in Lane County.

Nearly 80,000 customers remained without electricity Friday evening in the state after back-to-back storms, according to poweroutage.us.

Portland Public Schools canceled classes for the fourth straight day amid concerns about icy roads and water damage to buildings, and state offices in the city were also ordered closed.

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Ice was also a problem in the South. Snow and freezing rain added another coat of ice in Tennessee on Thursday. More than 9 inches of snow has fallen around Nashville since Sunday, nearly twice the yearly average.

Authorities blamed at least 17 deaths in Tennessee on the weather. Several were from traffic wrecks. In Washington County, a patient in an ambulance and a person in a pickup were killed in a head-on crash when the truck lost control on a snowy road.

Exposure to cold was deadly, too. A 25-year-old man was found dead in a mobile home in Lewisburg after a space heater fell over and turned off.

“There was ice on the walls in there,” Marshall County Chief Deputy Bob Johnson said.

Kentucky reported five deaths from the freezing weather. A statement from Gov. Andy Beshear didn't provide details.

The cold in Washington state was blamed for five deaths. The people — most of them presumed homeless — died from exposure to cold in just four days last week in Seattle as temperatures plummeted to well below freezing, the medical examiner’s office said.

Two people died from exposure as far south as Louisiana, where temperatures in part of the state stayed below freezing for more than two days.

The cold broke so many water mains in Memphis that the entire city was placed on a boil water notice because the pressure was so low, Memphis Light, Gas and Water said. Bottled water was being given out in at least two locations Friday.

In Jackson, Mississippi, law enforcement agencies are investigating whether social media rumors about a potential water outage during the cold snap prompted people to fill bathtubs with tap water. The water system in Mississippi’s capital experienced a drop in pressure that temporarily made faucets run dry for thousands of customers Wednesday and Thursday, though service was restored by Friday.

A significant drop in blood donations led Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Blood Assurance to recommend that more than 70 hospitals in five states halt elective surgeries until Wednesday to let the organization rebuild its inventory. In a news release Thursday, the group cited the weather and several massive blood transfusions in the previous 24 hours in its plea to the hospitals in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Aaron Robison, 62, has been staying at one of Nashville’s warming centers and said the cold wouldn’t have bothered him when he was younger. But now with arthritis in his hip and having to rely on two canes, he needed to get out of the cold.

“Thank God for people helping people on the streets. That’s a blessing,” he said.

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On Friday, more bitterly cold air was spilling into the Midwest from Canada. Several states were under an advisory as forecasters warned of wind chills dipping to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit that could be common through Sunday morning.

Since extreme cold weather set in last week, more than 60 oil spills and other environmental incidents have been reported in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields. Wind chills as low as minus 70 degrees F have strained workers and equipment, increasing the likelihood of accidents.

Lake-enhanced snow finally moved out of Buffalo, New York, late Thursday after burying parts of the city and some suburbs in five feet of snow in five days. The Buffalo Bills renewed their call for snow shovelers Friday, offering $20 an hour for help digging out Highmark Stadium before Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The West Virginia Legislature left after a brief session Friday because not enough lawmakers could get through snow-covered highways to the Capitol to vote on bills.

In Washington, snow fell softly and the streets around the U.S. Capitol were silent. Schools closed again for the second time in a week, and the government was on a two-hour delay. President Joe Biden still planned to host mayors from around the country on Friday, though, and was heading to his Delaware beach home for the weekend.