WASHINGTON (AFP) – Millions of Americans hunkered down on Sunday (Jan 16) as a major winter storm hit the eastern United States with heavy snow and ice, knocking power out to an estimated 235,000 people and counting.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said the storm was bringing a miserable combination of heavy snow, freezing rain and high winds, impacting the south-east and coastal mid-Atlantic before moving up to New England and southern Canada.
Traffic has already been seriously disrupted, with thousands of flights cancelled and a portion of busy interstate highway I-95 closed in North Carolina.
Drivers were warned of hazardous road conditions and major travel headaches from Arkansas in the South all the way up to the north-eastern state of Maine.
“Arctic air already in place across the central and eastern US will work in concert with this dynamic system to deliver a wide swathe of more than a foot (30cm) of heavy snow northwards across the upper Ohio Valley through the lower Great Lakes,” the NWS said.
The storm spawned damaging tornadoes in Florida and flooding in parts of the coast, while in the Carolinas and up across the Appalachians, icy conditions and blustery winds raised concerns.
In all, more than 80 million people fell under the winter weather alerts, US media reported.
Some 2,900 flights within, into or out of the United States were cancelled by mid-afternoon on Sunday, according to the FlightAware website, and a further 2,400 were delayed.
About 235,000 customers had already lost power in the south-east, including more than 150,000 in the Carolinas, according to the PowerOutage.US website.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp had declared a state of emergency on Friday, and snowploughs were at work before noon to clear the roads.
Virginia and North Carolina have also declared states of emergency. The Weather Channel reported that more than a foot of snow had fallen in North Carolina.
The NWS even reported some snow flurries in Pensacola, Florida, while usually mild Atlanta, Georgia, also saw snow.
The storm is expected to cause some coastal flooding, and the NWS warned that winds could near hurricane force on the Atlantic coast.
The north-eastern United States had already seen snow chaos in early January, when a storm blanketed the north-east.
After that storm, hundreds of motorists were stuck for more than 24 hours on a major highway linking to capital Washington.