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Winter storm: ‘Significant icing’ and treacherous travel conditions slam the Southeast as thousands lose power in the bitter cold

Winter weather alerts stretch nearly 1,000 miles from Georgia to Maine on Sunday, covering as many as 80 million people, CNN meteorologists said.

Meanwhile, nearly three million people in the Northeast are under high wind warnings, including in New York City and Boston. Winds gusting between 40 and 50 mph are possible — which could lead to power outages — while some parts of Maine could see gusts up to 65 mph.

Philadelphia was added to the winter weather advisory Sunday evening and snow began just after 6 p.m., CNN’s Gene Norman said. He added the city would likely see a few hours of snow before it mixed with rain overnight. Light snow began falling in New York City around 7 p.m. and flurries are also possible in Boston, he said.

The storm is disrupting transportation, with warnings to stay off roads and at least 2,987 flights canceled on Sunday, according to FlightAware.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Greenville, South Carolina, warned Sunday night “mixed precipitation and black ice” overnight in parts of upstate South Carolina, northeast Georgia and western North Carolina and its Piedmont region would make driving dangerous.

“Wet roads will refreeze, becoming icy and slippery,” it said. “Widespread black ice should be expected Monday morning, and may be a concern into the middle of the week. DOT asks persons to stay off roads unless absolutely necessary.”

The South Carolina National Guard has been activated to assist with the storm and keep roads clear.

“At the direction of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, the South Carolina National Guard has activated approximately 120 service members to be available to support our state partners in response to the winter weather impacting areas of the state,” said US Army Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, the adjutant general of South Carolina, in a Sunday news release.

Tweets by the South Carolina National Guard showed guardsmen assisting stranded motorists on roadways.
More than 130,000 people were without power as of 12 a.m. ET, according to PowerOutage.US. The top areas by outage included:
  • South Carolina 34,779
  • North Carolina 33,729
  • Virginia 33,037
  • Georgia 26,115
  • Maryland 22,357

“North Carolina is now feeling the effects of a winter storm that will continue to move through the state today,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Sunday.

“As much as eight to 12 inches of snow has fallen in some counties, and significant icing is causing trouble in the central part of the state,” Cooper said. “Conditions vary across North Carolina and are dangerous in many areas.”

At least 25 North Carolina counties have declared a state of emergency, and Cooper said some counties are prepared to open shelters to house those who do not have power or heat.

Road conditions are “treacherous” across North Carolina, state transportation secretary Eric Boyette said.

Authorities responded to more than 400 crashes Sunday, North Carolina State Highway Patrol spokesperson First Sgt. Christopher Knox told CNN on Sunday night.

“We have responded to 444 collisions and 989 calls for service from midnight today until late this afternoon in affected areas of the state,” Knox said.

He said two people, both age 41 and from Myrtle Beach, SC, were killed Sunday morning on I-95 in Nash County after their vehicle traveled off the road and struck several trees in the median.

“Exceeding a safe speed for the conditions is the proximate cause of the collision,” Knox said. “Weather at the time was a mixture of wintry precipitation.”

The NWS warned that ice accumulations will become very dangerous along and east of I-85 including Spartanburg, South Carolina, all the way up to Salisbury, North Carolina. This includes the entire metro Charlotte area.

Charlotte could get up to a foot of snow in the foothills and up to a half-inch of ice, forecasters said. Raleigh is expected to get up to 2 inches of snow and possibly a quarter-inch of ice.

Bookmark this site to check if snow is forecast for your region

The Virginia State Police say they have responded to at least 142 traffic crashes and 162 disabled vehicles since midnight due to the ongoing winter storm.

“Pls stay off the roads. Since midnight (1/16) thru 12:45 PM (1/16), #VSP responded to 142 traffic crashes & 162 disabled vehicles. Few injuries. No deaths reported,” it tweeted Sunday afternoon.

All lanes on I-81 in Roanoke County are back open this evening after being closed due to multiple tractor-trailer crashes, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

“WEATHER TRAFFIC ALERT: All lanes are open at #I81 MM 134 in @RoanokeCounty. Detour has been removed at exit 132. Conditions remain hazardous. Avoid travel. Other crashes along I-81 still blocking lanes,” VDOT’s Salem District said in a tweet.

Travel is being discouraged tonight on I-81 as crews continue to battle the snow and ice.

“Western Virginia has terrain with steep grades increasing the hazardous nature of travel, especially trucks, during a heavy snow/ice event. Trucks should avoid traveling on #I81 and #I77 in Virginia Sunday into Monday. ALL drivers avoid nonessential travel. Please!,” VDOT’s Salem District tweeted.

“We can’t stress this enough. Please avoid travel if at all possible during winter storms, especially when ice is present…,” VDOT said in an earlier tweet.

The Virginia National Guard said in a news release it had approximately 75 personnel staged for possible winter storm response operations at various locations across the state.

Freezing roads in northern Georgia have led to perilous conditions, the National Weather Service in Atlanta said.

“We are getting reports of numerous accidents across north GA from the ATL metro east,” the agency said in a Twitter post. Please, please, take it easy out there. Roads are beginning to freeze up as very cold air continues to filter in.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp asked residents to stay off the roads.

“Potential for black ice tonight with the temperatures dropping down into the 20s, so please stay off the roads tonight and tomorrow, if at all possible. It’s going to be very treacherous in a lot of parts of our state,” the governor said on Twitter. “Also, the potential for downed power lines is very high right now. So, the less traffic we have on the roads the easier it is for our partners to clear the roads and restore power.”
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is asking residents to stay home while it clears roads, saying Sunday afternoon that a portion of a major interstate was closed due to an overturned semi in Humphreys County.
“I-40 East closed due to an overturned semi in Humphreys Co. at the 136 mm. Wrecker is on scene to move the truck. The road is clear of snow but conditions are wet and could be slick. Take it slow out there,” spokesperson Rebekah Hammonds said in a tweet.
Snowfall rates could top one inch per hour from northeast Georgia into the western Carolinas and far eastern Tennessee, the Storm Prediction Center said. Heavy snow is also possible in western Virginia.

The Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are under the gun

Forecasters say the storm will move up the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions on Sunday and Monday.

“The highest snowfall totals are expected along the spine of the Appalachians as well as across the lower Great Lakes,” the National Weather Service said Sunday.
Snow covered Memphis, Tennessee, on Sunday morning.
From the Mid-Atlantic through New England, “precipitation is forecast to begin as snow before changing over to ice/sleet and eventually rain with the approach of the storm center,” the NWS said.

Some snow will fall in major metro areas, but a change to rain will hold down the accumulations. Washington could get 2-4 inches, while Philadelphia could get 1-2 inches. New York and Boston are expected to get about an inch each.

But heavier snow is expected elsewhere.

“As is common with this storm track, the Shenandoah Valley back toward the Alleghenies will be the likely winners in terms of highest snowfall totals,” NWS Baltimore said Saturday.
25 ways to stay warm this winter that won't break the bank

“7 to 10 inches is possible, but over a foot is not out of the question where heavier bands form.”

Snowfall intensity in the region may be heavy enough to evade significant icing, but NWS Baltimore warned untreated surfaces could still lead to dangerous travel conditions where ice accumulates.

The majority of accumulating snowfall will occur Sunday afternoon through Monday morning.

Interior cities such as Charleston, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Syracuse and Burlington, Vermont, will see the heaviest snow.

Coastal flooding also expected

Alongside the snowfall potential, strong winds from the east associated with the storm system could cause major coastal flooding of up to 3 feet above ground in some areas along the Northeast coast during high tide.

Parts of New York City, Long Island and some areas of Connecticut are under coastal flood warnings, forecasters said.

The timing of winds shifting from the east to the south will largely determine the severity of flooding, with moderate flooding potential if winds shift prior to high tide.

“Widespread moderate to locally major flooding of vulnerable areas is possible near the waterfront and shoreline, including roads, parking lots, parks, lawns, and homes and businesses with basements near the waterfront,” the NWS in New York said Saturday.

Inundation could cause road closures and structural damage along the Atlantic coastline.

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Allison Chinchar, Chad Myers, Dave Hennen, Monica Garrett, Haley Brink, Claudia Dominguez and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.