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A powerful, messy winter storm charging up East Coast leaves 200,000 without power

More than 80 million people are under winter weather alerts as a winter storm brought snow and ice to several East Coast states on Jan. 16. (Video: The Washington Post)
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A major winter storm moving into the northeast United States overnight Monday, which at one point left as many as 80 million under winter weather alerts from Mississippi to Maine, cut off power to about 200,000 people and prompted warnings from state officials for people to stay home.

The National Weather Service predicted on Monday heavy snowfall over parts of the Lower Great Lakes, Central Appalachians and the Northeast, along with rain over southern and northern New England and possible flooding along the eastern coastline.

After dumping up to a foot of snow across the Upper Midwest and Corn Belt on Friday and slipping into the Mid-South on Saturday, a mix of frozen precipitation was spreading up the eastern seaboard by Sunday night. The storm will move into southeastern Canada by Tuesday, while “scattered areas of light snow will linger over parts of the Central Appalachians to the higher elevations of the Northeast,” the National Weather Service said.

At least 20 states were expected to feel the impact of the storm.

Snow and ice affected southern areas unaccustomed to such weather, including northern parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, as well as the interior Carolinas. Over the weekend, several governors issued state of emergency proclamations, including North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R).

More than 30,000 households were without power in North and South Carolina early Monday, according to a website that tracks outages, PowerOutage.us.

Meanwhile, in New York, winter storm warnings were in effect Monday as well as coastal flooding warnings. The office of Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) warned that snow could fall at a rate of up to three inches an hour in parts of the state while the combination of heavy snow, ice, rain and strong winds “will cause difficult travel conditions and the potential for power outages” from Sunday evening and through Monday afternoon.

“New York is poised to experience one of the largest storms so far this winter,” Hochul said in a statement which encouraged New Yorkers to stay home and off the roads.

The storm

On Sunday afternoon, the storm was centered over northern Georgia. Since low-pressure systems spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, an arc of Gulf of Mexico moisture was spiraling northwestward to the east of the storm’s center, wrapping through the Carolinas and Tennessee before curling back into northern Mississippi and Alabama and eastern Tennessee. Snow or a wintry mix was falling in the cool air wraparound.

In Mississippi, heavy snow on the back side of the departing low contributed to snowfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour, leading to very impressive totals northeast of the state capital. Multiple observers in Goshen Springs, just east of the Ross Barnett Reservoir, reported half a foot of snow on the ground around sunrise Sunday. Only 0.1 inches had been reported as of 1:47 a.m.

Little Rock saw 1 to 2 inches of snow, but significantly more fell in the higher elevations of the Ozarks to the northwest. A foot was reported in Canaan and Harrison, Ark., with 7.5 inches east of Interstate 65 in Bergman.

Nashville had seen a wintry mix change to moderate snow as of mid-Sunday afternoon. Totals of 1 to 3 inches can be expected.

Rain had also changed to snow in Atlanta Sunday afternoon where temperatures were slightly above freezing. The Weather Service urged caution due to “numerous accidents” in northern Georgia. The forecast called for up to an inch or two, with the heaviest amounts north and northeast of the city.

To the northeast, in the mountainous terrain of northeast Georgia and the western parts of the Carolinas, the snow was piling up. A total of 5.6 inches had accumulated in Clarkesville, Ga., with 10 inches in Brevard, N.C., southwest of Asheville. Greenville, S.C. had about half a foot as of Sunday morning.

In some areas of the western Carolinas, the snow had transitioned to freezing rain by Sunday afternoon, including around Charlotte where surfaces were becoming glazed.

Near Roanoke, Va. sections of Interstate 81 were closed due to a multiple tractor-trailer crash amid the snow according to the Virginia State Police which advised staying off the highway.

In warm, humid air ahead of the storm in South Florida, a line of severe thunderstorms crossed the peninsula Sunday morning and afternoon, prompting a tornado watch. The Weather Service received two reports of tornadoes near Fort Myers, where social media showed damage:

The line of storms in South Florida had pushed offshore as of about 2:30 p.m.

East Coast slop

Cold air was in place at the surface along the Eastern Seaboard to start Sunday morning. Washington, under a winter weather advisory, dropped below 20 degrees overnight for the first time in a record 1,078 days. It dipped to 18 degrees as of 8 a.m. New York was 11 degrees, and Boston was 8.

Between 1 and 2 p.m., snow had begun in the nation’s capital and had reached Baltimore just before 3 p.m.

D.C.-area forecast: Dangerous road conditions late this afternoon and evening as snow changes to ice

Despite the antecedent frigid conditions, the cinnamon bun swirl of a storm was to entrain a tongue of mild air at the mid-levels of the atmosphere as it makes the trek north. That “warm nose” at 5,000 feet above the ground will flip precipitation over to sleet, freezing rain and, eventually, all rain very quickly as cold air is scoured out of the region.

In the nation’s capital, a couple inches of snow are likely before a transition ensues between 6 and 8 p.m.; Baltimore will see mostly wet precipitation by 10 p.m., and New York and Boston will be hard pressed to see any snow before rain arrives overnight. While there could be some minor icing in pockets along the I-95 corridor, the bulk of the more wintry issues will be focused to the west.

There’s even a chance that southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including the Cape and islands, could see heavy thunderstorms and an outside chance of severe thunderstorms, firmly nestled within the “warm sector” on the mild side of the system.

The most serious icing is anticipated in central parts of the Carolinas, including near Charlotte, where rain falling into a lip of cold air bleeding off the Appalachians could lead to a dangerous accumulation. Ice storm conditions are possible in portions of interior North and South Carolina, including “nearly impossible” travel and power outages, according to the Weather Service.

Appalachian snows

Because the low-pressure center is working up the coast, areas to the west will be on the cold side of the system.

Moderate to heavy accumulations are possible in the high terrain of the Carolinas, western Virginia, eastern West Virginia, the Panhandle of Maryland, much of Pennsylvania, extreme-eastern Ohio and western New York state. A plowable snow is a safe bet with 5 to 10 inches the general rule. Localized pockets of more than a foot are possible, especially in the elevations of the Appalachians and in western Pennsylvania and New York state.

Snow will taper off south to north Sunday night into midday Monday as a “dry slot” works through. In its wake, colder air will build into the region.

Meteorologists are also tracking the potential for a wintry system next weekend in the eastern United States.

Jason Samenow contributed to this article.

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