By Claire Rush, Drew Callister and Jim Salter | Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. – Winter storms sowed more chaos across the US on Thursday, shutting down much of Portland after the city experienced its second snowiest day on record and paralyzing travel from parts of the Pacific coast to the northern plains.
The nearly 11 centimeters of snow that fell in Portland brought traffic to a standstill during Wednesday night’s rush hour and stranded motorists on the highways. Some stayed overnight in their vehicles or abandoned them altogether as crews scrambled to clear the roads.
The storms also knocked power to hundreds of thousands of homes across several states and delayed or grounded thousands of flights.
Others reveled in a surprise day off in a place that rarely gets measurable snow.
Joan Jasper grabbed her skis and was gliding through a residential neighborhood in Portland.
“They always have like ‘snowmageddon’ on the news, so we kind of ignored it — and 11 inches later, here we are!” she said. “This is beautiful.”
For the first time since 1989, the National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for the mountains of Southern California. Meteorologists predicted “multiple rounds” of snow, with accumulations of up to 3 to 5 feet (0.91 to 1.5 meters) forecast for the Sierra Nevada region.
Snow was also expected in some lower foothills and valley areas near the Pacific coast, the weather service said, “given the depth of cold air that has seeped in from the west.”
Large amounts of moisture in the air also created an increased risk of flash floods, meteorologists said. Some coastal areas could see waves as high as 10 to 14 feet (3 to 4 meters) through Thursday, meteorologists said.
The winter mix has hit the northern US hard, closing schools and offices and forcing churches to cancel Ash Wednesday services.
In Wyoming, roads in much of the southern part of the state were impassable, state officials said.
Rescue teams tried to reach the trapped drivers, but strong winds and accumulated snow created an “almost impossible situation”, said Sgt. Jeremy Beck of the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
In the Pacific Northwest, strong winds and heavy snow in the Cascade Mountains prevented search teams from reaching the bodies of three climbers killed over the weekend in an avalanche on Washington’s Colchuck Peak.
Unexpectedly heavy snow during rush hour on Wednesday night spun dozens of cars in Portland and caused hours-long traffic jams.
In Arizona, several interstate and other highways were closed due to high winds, falling temperatures and snow. The state Department of Transportation advised people not to travel. Forecasters said snow could fall at a rate of 5 to 8 centimeters per hour on Thursday.
A blizzard warning was in effect through Saturday in California for higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada, where meteorologists predicted several feet of snow, gusts of 60 mph (96 km/h) and chilly winds of up to minus 40 degrees (minus 40 degrees). Celsius).
In the state capital of Sacramento, the weather bureau said it had received reports of what could be hail or sleet – soft, wet snowflakes wrapped in droplets of supercooled water.
Power grids took a beating in the north as heavy ice and gusty winds knocked out power lines. In California, the lines were littered with tree branches and other debris.
A Michigan firefighter died Wednesday after coming into contact with a downed power line in the village of Paw Paw, officials said. Van Buren County Sheriff Dan Abbott called it a tragic accident that “wasn’t the firefighter’s fault.”
As of Thursday morning, more than 681,000 customers were without power in Michigan; more than 84,000 in Illinois; more than 58,000 in Wisconsin; about 42,000 in California and about 32,000 in New York state, according to the PowerOutage.us website.
The weather also contributed to nearly 1,800 US flight cancellations on Wednesday and another 759 on Thursday morning, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware. Another 6,000+ flights were delayed across the country.
At Denver International Airport, Taylor Dotson, her husband, Reggie, and their 4-year-old daughter, Raegan, faced a two-hour flight delay to Nashville on their way home to Belvidere, Tennessee.
Reggie Dotson was in Denver interviewing for a job as an airline pilot.
“I think it’s funny that we’ve experienced these types of delays when that’s what he’s thinking of getting into right now as a career,” said Taylor Dotson.
Few places have been untouched by the wild weather, including some at the far end. Longtime records were broken in Nashville, which peaked Wednesday at 80 degrees (27 degrees Celsius), breaking a 127-year-old record for the date, according to the weather service.
Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Atlanta were among the record-setting cities, as were Lexington, Kentucky and Mobile, Alabama.
As of Thursday morning, the weather service reported 16 inches (41 centimeters) of snow in the Minneapolis suburb of Savage and 10.1 inches (26 centimeters) in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, with just a little more expected. Many roads remain covered in snow and in some cases closed, he said.
Temperatures could drop to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius) on Thursday and minus 25 Fahrenheit (minus 32 degrees Celsius) on Friday in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wind chills can drop to minus 50 F (minus 46 C), said Nathan Rick, a meteorologist in Grand Forks.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. Numerous Associated Press reporters from across the country contributed to this report.
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