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A Christmas Eve ‘travel nightmare’: snow, flooding, possibly tornadoes

A bad winter storm hit the eastern United States on Christmas Eve, pushing drivers off the roads and threatening to spoil the plans of vacation travelers and last-minute shoppers in a season already tempered by the coronavirus.

Snow and rain spread from Atlanta to Buffalo on Thursday. Forecasters have issued warnings of a range of possible dangers – heavy snowfall, flooding, even tornadoes – from Tennessee to Maine.

The storm has already shown its ferocity, blanketing the Midwest on Wednesday and bringing more than eight inches of snow to Minneapolis. Blizzard conditions delayed hundreds of flights and turned the roads into dangerous white sheets.

In Nebraska, police have responded to more than 250 accidents or calls for help, including one with tragic results: A man, woman and child were killed when their car skidded on a median along the l ‘Interstate 80 and into an oncoming semi-truck; two other children in the car were also injured.

Other places are expected to be hit by a treacherous mixture of rain and snow on Thursday. Forecasters said parts of West Virginia could receive more than an inch of rain during the day and then up to half a foot of snow in the evening.

“Combine that, and it’s kind of a travel nightmare,” said James Zvolensky, a meteorologist with the Charleston National Weather Service, W.Va. “Things can get slippery pretty quickly.”

Gusts of up to 65 miles per hour were expected to sweep through New York City from late Thursday through Christmas morning, along with heavy rain, which could topple trees and power lines. “Widespread power outages are expected,” the National Weather Service warned.

During a pandemic holiday period in which health experts begged the public not to travel, the brutal weather could be all the more reason to stay home for Christmas. Even before noon Thursday, dozens of flights to the United States had been canceled.

Last weekend, despite warnings, more than a million travelers a day passed through airport security, about half the number of last year.

Temperatures in the south fell unusually low on Thursday and some cities like Knoxville, Tennessee were bracing for their first major Christmas snowfall in a decade. Temperatures in Florida are expected to drop more than 30 degrees as rain and wind enter the state.

The tornadoes were also possible in Florida, Virginia and the Carolinas, forecasters said.

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Video: Heavy rains and flooding as Iota makes landfall

TimesVideo Heavy rain and flooding as Iota makes landfall The hurricane passes through parts of Central America that are still reeling from Hurricane Eta earlier this month. By Storyful and The Associated Press.

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Tropical storm Eta causes flooding in South Florida

Electricity was cut Monday morning for more than 40,000 Florida Power & Light customers, mainly in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The company said nearly 300,000 people lost electricity on Sunday as the storm approached and most had already restored it.

Crews have been working to restore power to areas where sustained winds have calmed down somewhat, such as Palm Beach County, said Bill Orlove, a company spokesperson.

“You cannot drive a bucket truck in winds that exceed 35 miles per hour,” Mr. Orlove said. “Miami is experiencing gusts above 40 to 50, but as long as the sustained winds are below, our crews are able to restore service.”

Eta, the 28th named storm of the 2020 season, is expected to meander over the warm waters of the Gulf for the next day or two, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm, surrounded by dry air that weakens tropical systems, should no longer turn into a hurricane.

It could still turn northeast, possibly returning to Florida’s Gulf Coast, but the 10-hour notice from the hurricane center revealed a much deteriorated storm. All tropical storm watches and warnings for Southwest Florida have been lifted.

“If the models are correct and the storm isn’t moving north, then it’s just going to separate, just sitting there in the mid-Gulf of Mexico,” said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the hurricane center. . “The storm is escalating before our eyes right now.”

There is a broad scientific consensus that climate change is one of the central forces behind increasingly extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, causing worsening floods and more powerful storms.