Storm slaps coastal South with most snow in nearly 3 decades
AP 15 days ago
Water squirts from a frozen fountain near downtown in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Temperatures plummeted overnight to 2 degrees in the north Georgia mountains, 14 in Atlanta and 26 as far south as New Orleans as the Gulf Coast felt more like Green Bay. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Steam rises above the waters of the Mississippi River underneath the Eads Bridge as the temperature hovers around -1 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in St. Louis. Cold temperatures will stay throughout the week. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)
A coin operated binocular is covered with snow on Goat Island at Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Almost every year frigid temperatures transform Niagara Falls State Park into an icy winter wonderland when the mist of the falls is blown back, freezing on the landscape. (James Neiss/The Niagara Gazette via AP)
A person sits bundled in a winter jacket while looking out over the midtown skyline in Atlanta, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. A prolonged stretch of brutal cold is taking a toll in the South, and temperatures in Atlanta are expected to dive well below freezing every night this week through Saturday night, the National Weather Service said Tuesday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Sherlin Galicia, left, Alexander Galicia, center, and Heidi Galicia play on the iced over pond at Overton Park while walking the dog, Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 2, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. The isce has grown a couple inches thick on the pond after several nights of sub freezing temperatures, which are expected to continue through the week. (Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal via AP)
Small patches of ice formed along the banks of the Hudson River near the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Dangerously cold temperatures blamed for at least nine deaths have wreaked havoc across a wide swath of the U.S., freezing a water tower in Iowa, halting ferry service in New York and leading officials to open warming centers even in the Deep South. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Jim Portis with the City of Lincoln, clears snow off the frozen surface of Oak Lake in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, as part of preparations to open the lake to ice skating. The lake's surface was deemed safe for ice skating after bone-chilling cold gripped much of the central U.S., breaking century-old records, icing over some New Year's celebrations and leading to at least two deaths attributed to exposure to the elements. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Wen Qin Fu takes her 15-month-old baby Beyu Xia for a walk in a stroller fitter with a cover to protect against the wind in Chicago's Hyde Park during subzero temperatures on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune via AP)
The sun sets behind a woman taking a stroll on a frigid evening at Liberty State Park, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Jersey City, N.J. The Northern New Jersey region continued to experience deep cold weather to start the new year. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Tony Sampson, who received a blanket from Star of Hope's Love in Action van, tries to warm up by a fire under the Eastex Freeway as temperatures hover in the 30s Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Houston. Plunging overnight temperatures in Texas brought rare snow flurries as far south as Austin, and accidents racked up on icy roads across the state. (Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Icicles form on a outdoor string of lights as temperatures struggle to get above freezing Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Houston. Plunging overnight temperatures in Texas brought rare snow flurries as far south as Austin, and accidents racked up on icy roads across the state. In the central Texas city of Abilene, the local police chief said more than three dozen vehicle crashes were reported in 24 hours. ( Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Samantha Ritter of Robinson gave Matthew Sun his first glimpse of Pittsburgh's Point, which was snow-covered and frozen on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Sun is from Sterling, Va., near Washington DC.(Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette via AP)
People are bundled up after walking off the Statue of Liberty ferry on a frigid evening at Liberty State Park, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in Jersey City, N.J. The Northern New Jersey region continued to experience deep cold weather to start the new year. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Jeff Stuckey, left, and Erick Hernandez play ice hockey as frigid temperatures impacted Naperville, Ill. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. The bitter cold continued Tuesday as the weather service issued wind chill warnings for northwestern and central Illinois. (Bev Horne /Daily Herald via AP)
In a Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 photo, morning workers pass a lone poinsettia left to remember Grover Perry, a homeless man who was found dead in a portable toilet on North Seventh Street in downtown St. Louis on Wednesday, Dec. 20. Police say another homeless man found dead inside a trash bin on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, apparently froze to death as the temperature dropped to negative 6 degrees (-21 Celsius)
Zach Beekley, left, Adalyn Walcott, center, Vance Walcott, right, and Gannon Walcott, top right, play on the ice on Stoyer's Dam at Bubeck Park in Schuylkill Haven, Pa., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (Jacqueline Dormer/Republican-Herald via AP)
Plants near a fountain are covered in ice at the intersection of Broad and 9th Streets in Augusta, Ga., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2017. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)
Icicles form in a frozen fountain at the intersection of Broad and 9th Streets in Augusta, Ga., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2017. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)
Snow lies on a sidewalk in Pottsville, Pa. as of Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. (Andy Matsko/Republican-Herald via AP)
Water flows over the American Falls as ice forms in this view from the Canadian side in Niagara Falls, Ont., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Almost every year frigid temperatures transform the falls into an icy winter wonderland when the mist is blown back, freezing on the landscape. (Aaron Lynett/The Canadian Press via AP)
Visitors take photographs at the brink of the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ont., Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Almost every year frigid temperatures transform the falls into an icy winter wonderland when the mist is blown back, freezing on the landscape. (Aaron Lynett/The Canadian Press via AP)
Icicles form on the tritons in the Forsyth Park Fountain Tuesday morning, Jan. 2, 2018, in Savannah, Ga. Savannah is shivering through a rare bout with icy weather, with the National Weather Service predicting that up to 2 inches of snow and sleet could fall Wednesday on the typically balmy coastal city. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News via AP)
Alora Freeman, 8, watches as ice builds along a downtown water fountain in Atlanta, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. A brutal winter storm scattered a wintry mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain from normally balmy north Florida up the Southeast seaboard Wednesday, adding to the misery of a bitter cold snap. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency through Friday for at least 28 counties because of the frigid weather. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Omar Elkhalidi uses a wood shim to scrape ice off his windshield that accumulated overnight from freezing temperatures, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Savannah, Ga. Only a few motorists ventured out in freezing rain that coated bridges and ramps with ice, forcing police to close roads and highways in Savannah. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
A frozen fountain in Historic Forsyth Park still works despite freezing temperatures and rain, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Savannah, Ga. Only a few motorists ventured out in freezing rain that coated bridges and ramps with ice, forcing police to close roads and highways in Savannah. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Sea ice floats in Boston Harbor, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Boston. After a week of frigid temperatures, a major winter storm is predicted for the region on Thursday. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Visitors walk around the frozen fountain and snow covered sidewalks at Forsyth Park, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Savannah, Ga .(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Ducks sit on sea ice in Boston Harbor, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Boston. After a week of frigid temperatures, a major winter storm is predicted for the region on Thursday. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Children from the Hoffman and Lynns families build a snowman on the public basketball courts in Forsyth Park, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Savannah, Ga. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency through Friday for at least 28 counties because of the frigid weather. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Seeing her first winter weather, 9-month-old Roxie, eats snow off the ground of the public basketball courts at Forsyth Park, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Savannah, Ga. A brutal winter storm scattered a wintry mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain from normally balmy Florida up the Southeast seaboard Wednesday. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
A man walks past a frozen part of the Hudson River in Beacon, N.Y., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Bitterly cold temperatures gripped much of the nation on Tuesday, testing the mettle of even winter-wise northerners and delivering a shock to those accustomed to far milder weather in the South. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
In this Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 photo, water overflows out of the Schererville water tower in Schererville, Ind. An official said frigid weather likely caused the water tower in northwestern Indiana to overflow. (Kale Wilk/The Times via AP)
A pedestrian's makeshift raincoat blows in the rainy cold weather Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, along Philips Highway in Jacksonville, Fla. A hard freeze with possible icy roads is predicted overnight. (Will Dickey/The Florida Times-Union via AP)
Sydney Freed, 4, of Orlando, Fla., throws one of her first snowballs at her father, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Savannah, Ga.(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A brutal winter storm smacked the coastal Southeast with a rare blast of snow and ice Wednesday, hitting parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina with their heaviest snowfall in nearly three decades.
Forecasters warned that the same system could soon strengthen into a "bomb cyclone" as it rolls up the East Coast, bringing hurricane-force winds, coastal flooding and up to a foot of snow.
At least 17 deaths were blamed on dangerously cold temperatures that for days have gripped wide swaths of the U.S. from Texas to New England.
A winter storm warning extended from the Gulf Coast of Florida's "Big Bend" region all the way up the Atlantic coast. Forecasters said hurricane-force winds blowing offshore on Thursday could generate 24-foot (7-meter) seas.
Schools in the Southeast called off classes just months after being shut down because of hurricane threats, and police urged drivers to stay off the roads in a region little accustomed to the kind of winter woes common to the Northeast.
In Savannah, snow blanketed the city's lush downtown squares and collected on branches of burly oaks for the first time in nearly eight years. William Shaw, a Savannah native, used baby steps to shuffle along a frozen road from his home to the post office.
"It almost seems the town is deserted just like in the last hurricane," said Shaw, 65. "There's no one on the street. It's got a little eerie feeling."
Dump trucks spread sand on major streets in Savannah ahead of the storm and police closed several bridges, overpasses and a major causeway because of ice.
By the time the morning's dreary sleet and rain turned to fluffy snow, Savannah came out to play. Families with children flocked to Forsyth Park near the downtown historic district for snowball fights. The National Weather Service recorded 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) of snow — Savannah's first measurable snowfall since February 2010 and the first that exceeded an inch (2.5 centimeters) in 28 years.
Across the Georgia-South Carolina line in Charleston, the weather service reported 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) as the snow was winding down at 5 p.m. That's the most snowfall in Charleston since December 1989, and plenty for Chris Monoc's sons, ages 4 and 2, to go sledding outside their home near the city's iconic Ravenel Bridge.
"They probably will be teenagers the next time something like this happens, and that's kind of sad," Monoc said. "But we'll enjoy it while it is here."
Airports shut down in Savannah, Charleston and elsewhere as airlines cancelled 500 flights Wednesday, and at least 1,700 more were cancelled Thursday. Interstate 95 was nearly an icy parking lot for almost all of its 200 miles (322 kilometers) in South Carolina. Troopers couldn't keep up with the number of reported wrecks which numbered in the hundreds.
In Tallahassee, Florida, Michigan transplant Laura Donaven built a snowman 6 inches (15 centimeters) tall. The city tweeted that snow fell there for the first time in 28 years.
"I made a snowball and threw it at my dad," said Donaven, a 41-year-old hair salon owner.
The weather service said the winter storm will probably intensify into a "bomb cyclone" that could dump more than 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow on the Boston area on Thursday and at least half a foot (15 centimeters) of snow in the New York City region.
Meteorologists have been using the term "bomb" for storms for decades, but the phrase went viral on social media on Wednesday. A storm is a bomb — or bombogensis happens — when it drops 24 millibars of pressure in 24 hours. This storm looks like it will intensify twice that rate, said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center.
Mississippi's largest city said record cold is breaking water mains, leaving some customers with little or no water flow.
Jackson city spokeswoman Kai Williams said Wednesday evening that the city knew of 37 separate water main breaks that it attributed to cold. The city has declared an emergency and is hiring outside contractors to help repair water main breaks.
Blizzard warnings were issued from Rhode Island to Maine. Oravec said he expects they could be extended as far south as parts of New York.
"It's sort of akin to a hurricane traveling up the coast," says Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at the private firm Weather.US.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency through Friday for 28 counties. School systems on the Alabama coast waived uniform requirements so students could bundle up.
Florida's largest theme parks announced that water attractions such as Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, Universal Orlando's Volcano Bay and SeaWorld's Aquatica were closed. Temperatures were running well below normal for this time of year, and the lows are expected to hover right around freezing.
In Prairieville, Louisiana, Valerie Anne Broussard struggled overnight to keep warm in a house that is being rebuilt after the 2016 floods that hit the small community southeast of Baton Rouge. Her home has exterior walls and floors but no insulation, no central heating and only a few working electrical outlets. Eggs that she left on the kitchen counter froze and broke open.
"It's like a camping trip that I didn't sign up for," said Broussard, who's been huddling with her 8-year-old daughter, newborn baby and boyfriend in a bedroom warmed by space heaters.
Making the most of the South's bitter cold snap, the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro offered discounted tickets for those willing to brave the cold to see polar bears frolic in their kind of weather, along with Arctic foxes and elk. African elephants, lions and gorillas were sheltered out of public view.
As the cold pushed farther northward, Jerry Gorans found himself stunned by the frigid temperatures as he walked along the waterfront City Dock of Annapolis, Maryland, where birds stood still on icy water.
"This is the coldest I've been in probably 50 years," said Gorans, who lives in Fresno, California, and was visiting his wife's family in Maryland. "I mean, this is freezing cold. My feet hurt, my ears hurt."
Associated Press reporters Seth Borenstein in Washington; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Tammy Webber in Indianapolis; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Brendan Farrington and Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland; Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi and Stephen Morton in Savannah contributed to this story.
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