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At Least 18 Dead as Cold Spell Grips Northeast US

At Least 18 Dead as Cold Spell Grips Northeast US

Friday, 5 January, 2018 - 19:00
At least 18 people have died in a brutal cold spell that has gripped the US Northeast. (AP)

At least 18 people have died in a brutal cold spell that has gripped the US Northeast after a powerful blizzard dumped several feet of snow across the region.

From Baltimore to Caribou, Maine, workers battled to clear snow and ice as wind chills were to forecast to fall as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius) in some areas after sundown, according to the National Weather Service.

In the latest fatality blamed on the frigid weather, a driver slid off an icy road, killing a pedestrian, early on Friday in North Charleston, South Carolina, city officials said.

“THE DANGERS ARE REAL,” the officials warned in a Twitter message. “Huge patches of ice all over the city. Stay at home.”

The fierce cold will reach from New England to the Midwest and down to the Carolinas, forecasters warned, adding that low-temperature records could be broken across the region in the coming days.

In much of New England on Friday, the highs will reach only into the single digits or teens Fahrenheit, with intense wind chills, said Dan Pydynowski, a meteorologist with private forecasting service AccuWeather.

“It can be very dangerous,” Pydynowski said. “Any kind of exposed skin can freeze in a couple of minutes.” Wind chill describes the combined effect of wind and low temperatures on bare skin.

The arctic blast could make temperatures feel as low as minus 15 degrees to minus 25 from Philadelphia to Boston and make residents of states like Maryland and Virginia shiver from temperatures ranging from 10 degrees to 15 degrees.

The wind chill could make it feel like minus 35 degrees in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, the National Weather Service said.

The extreme cold also raised the risk that road salt would not work to melt ice, possibly leaving highway crews to shift over to sanding roads to improve traction, Massachusetts transportation officials said.

Utility companies across the East worked to repair downed power lines as about 31,000 customers remained without electricity early on Friday, down from almost 80,000 the day before. Most of the outages were in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

The storm that swept in on Thursday with winds gusts of more than 70 miles per hour (113 km per hour), dumped a foot (30 cm) or more of snow throughout the region, including Boston and parts of New Jersey and Maine, before ending early on Friday.

The harsh conditions were powered by a rapid plunge in barometric pressure that some weather forecasters called a bombogenesis, or a “bomb cyclone.”

The weather has been blamed for at least 18 deaths in the past few days.

Four people were killed in North Carolina and South Carolina after their vehicles ran off snow-covered roads, authorities said. Another fatality was reported near Philadelphia when a car could not stop at the bottom of a steep, snow-covered hill and slammed into a commuter train. A passenger in the vehicle was killed. No one on the train was hurt.

Schools in Boston and Baltimore canceled classes on Friday while those in New York were open. Schools in Newark, New Jersey, opened two hours later than normal.

Commuter railways serving New York and Boston’s suburbs reported extensive delays as they worked to repair frozen equipment and clear snow-covered tracks.

Thursday’s storm caused a 3-foot (0.9-metre) tidal surge that flooded the area around Boston’s historic Long Wharf with icy seawater. Firefighters used an inflatable raft to rescue one motorist from a car submerged up to its door handles, Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn told reporters.

Communities outside Boston, including Scituate, also experienced extensive flooding.

New York’s John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports resumed flights on Friday after closing during whiteout conditions the day before. More than 1,200 US flights had been canceled by midday on Friday; the most cancellations were at the three major airports in the New York area and at Boston Logan International Airport.

Nearly 500 members of the National Guard were activated to assist with the emergency response along the East Coast, including 200 in New York state, authorities said.

In New Jersey, gusty winds carried flames from a vacant building across the street to two other buildings Friday morning. The flames also spread to two structures adjacent to the vacant building, damaging a total of five in Newark. Two firefighters received minor injuries.

In northern New England, temperatures will be below zero this weekend. The high in Burlington, Vermont, on Saturday may only be minus 5 degrees.

The South won't be spared, either. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia can expect temperatures around 15 degrees to 20 degrees. Northern Florida will be in the 20s to low 30s.

Sunday morning should bring the coldest temperatures from Portland, Maine, to Washington, D.C.

More seasonable weather is expected to return early next week with temperatures in the high 30s and near 40s.

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