Tornadoes, snowstorms expected as powerful storm systems push eastward

Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 7:00am

Winter weather complicated travel for many Americans on Wednesday, and even forced one NBA team to take the rare step of postponing a game due to the conditions.

The Indiana Pacers said their game against the Chicago Bulls was rescheduled due to severe weather in Indianapolis. No makeup date was announced.

Snow totals ranged from 6 to 12 inches, CNN affiliate WRTV in Indianapolis reported. About 350 snowplows were clearing roads throughout the city.

"It's pretty bad. You get a lot of drifting out there. That's what's killing us, mainly," said plow driver David White.

Four people have died in weather-related incidents since Tuesday. A 53-year-old man in Rayville, Louisiana, was killed when a tree fell on his house, Richland Parish Sheriff Lee Harrell said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told residents they should avoid nonessential travel.

"Winter weather has arrived for many parts of the state, so as a precaution we have opened the emergency operation center to coordinate response efforts using all state and local resources," Cuomo said. "I also urge New Yorkers to closely watch local news reports for weather updates and adjust their travel plans accordingly."

New York State Police said long sections of Interstate 84 and the Taconic State Parkway would be temporarily closed while crews cleared snow.

Wind was causing major delays at airports, including Philadelphia International Airport. At one point it had delays of three hours, 40 minutes, the longest setbacks in the country, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Several other airports in the Northeast had delays of more than one hour.

CNN meteorologist Alexandra Steele said wind was the primary problem.

"(Many of) the big cities aren't seeing snow accumulation, they're seeing very heavy rain with the wind, " she said. One gust in New York reached 31 mph, and gusts could become stronger as the night progressed, she said.

Drivers in Pennsylvania were traversing ice- and snow-covered streets and highways. In Pittsburgh, which was seeing its first major snowfall of the season, travelers battled the elements. One said a trip from her mother's house that normally could be done in 30 minutes took her three hours.

CNN affiliate WTAE reported the speed limit of some sections of the Pennsylvania Turnpike were lowered to 45 mph and big rigs with empty trailers or two trailers weren't allowed on the road.

As many people tried to get home, others were surveying the results of the storms that began in the Midwest and surged east.

A white Christmas is rare for Little Rock, Arkansas, but a powerful winter storm took it to a new level: The 9 inches that fell broke a December 25 snowfall record that stood for 86 years.

The most pressing threat is to the southern parts of South Carolina, southeast North Carolina and northern Florida, which must endure the same severe weather pattern that caused as many as 30 tornadoes on Christmas Day.

In areas where the storm has passed, officials were assessing the damage.

More than 25 storm-related injuries were reported in Mississippi, the state's emergency management office said. No fatalities were reported.

In addition to the injuries, about 70 homes were damaged, most in the southern portion of the state.

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency for several battered Mississippi counties, a declaration that helps get support to victims. He said that at least eight counties reported damage and injuries. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared a statewide disaster.

The severe storms left more than 215,000 customers in the dark Wednesday, power companies said.

"Our main priority is focused on recovery," said John Kilcullen, director of operations for emergency management in Mobile, Alabama. Electricity has been restored to 13,000 customers, and efforts were under way to remove debris, he said.

In Arkansas, the National Guard deployed resources for ambulance support in two counties, Maj. Chris Heathscott said, adding that the snow made for a tough commute Wednesday.

"I couldn't get out of my driveway this morning, so I had to walk the five miles to our offices at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock," he said. "I may have to just sleep here in the office tonight."

The storms were responsible for at least two deaths on Christmas.

A 25-year-old man in Texas was killed after a tree fell on his pickup as he was driving on the northwest side of Houston, Harris County sheriff's deputy Thomas Gilliland said. Officials suspected high winds knocked the tree down.

A 28-year-old woman from Woodward, Oklahoma, was killed in an accident on a snow-covered two-lane highway.

Amanda Goodman was ejected from the SUV she was riding in after the driver lost control and struck an oncoming big rig, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said. Goodman died at the scene, and the driver and a 4-year-old passenger were taken to a hospital. They were listed in stable condition. The truck driver was not injured.

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