Update: Christmas Storms Blamed for at Least 6 Deaths, Blizzards Headed Toward Northeast
MOBILE, Ala. (TheBlaze/AP) — A Christmas Day storms that have been blamed for at least six deaths are moving toward the Northeast and are expected to exacerbate holiday travel that has already suffered major havoc.
Drenching rainstorms rumbled across Georgia early Wednesday without causing any apparent damages. But Georgia Power officials said thousands lost power in the state as the storm system moved on toward the Carolinas, taking aim at the heavily populated Eastern seaboard. Farther north on a line from Little Rock, Ark., to Cleveland, blizzard conditions were predicted before the snow — up to a foot in some places — made its way into the Northeast.
On Tuesday, winds toppled a tree onto a pickup truck in the Houston area, killing the driver, and a 53-year-old north Louisiana man was killed when a tree fell on his house. Icy roads already were blamed for a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma, and the Highway Patrol there says a 28-year-old woman was killed in a crash on a snowy U.S. Highway near Fairview.
Mobile was the biggest city hit by numerous rare winter twisters. Along with brutal, straight-line winds, the storms knocked down countless trees, blew the roofs off homes and left many Christmas celebrations in the dark. Torrential rains drenched the region and several places saw flash flooding.
More than 325 flights around, into and leaving the U.S. were canceled as of Wednesday morning, according to the flight tracker FlightAware.com. The cancelations were mostly spread around airports that had been or soon would be in the path of the storm.
Holiday travelers in the nation’s much colder midsection battled treacherous driving conditions from freezing rain and blizzard conditions from the same fast-moving storms. In Arkansas, highway department officials said the state was fortunate the snowstorm hit on Christmas Day when many travelers were already at their destinations.
Texas, meanwhile, dealt with high winds and slickened highways.
The snowstorm that caused numerous accidents pushed out of Oklahoma late Tuesday, carrying with it blizzard warnings for parts of northeast Arkansas, where 10 inches of snow was forecast. Freezing rain clung to trees and utility lines in Arkansas and winds gusts up to 30 mph whipped them around, causing about 71,000 customers to lose electricity.
Blizzard conditions were possible for parts of Illinois, Indiana and western Kentucky with predictions of 4 to 7 inches of snow.
Some mountainous areas of Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow, which would make travel “very hazardous or impossible” in the northern tier of the state from near whiteout conditions, the National Weather Service said.
The holiday may conjure visions of snow and ice, but twisters this time of year are not unheard of. Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned at least one Christmastime tornado with winds of 113 mph or more in the South, said Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman in Washington, via email.
The most lethal were the storms of Dec. 24-26, 1982, when 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32.
This story has been updated as the death toll rose.
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