Storms snarl US travel, threaten rare winter tornadoes as death toll exceeds 40

Snow blankets Marsha Sharp Freeway in Lubbock, Texas on Sunday, with as much as 13 inches of snow forecast for parts of the US state.
Snow blankets Marsha Sharp Freeway in Lubbock, Texas on Sunday, with as much as 13 inches of snow forecast for parts of the US state. PHOTO: AFP

CHICAGO (REUTERS) - Snow, sleet and hail snarled transportation across much of the Midwest and Southwest on Monday during one of the busiest travel periods of the year after more than 40 people were killed by tornadoes and floods during the Christmas holiday season.

Rare winter tornado warnings were issued in Alabama, which along with Mississippi and the Florida panhandle, was expected to bear the brunt of the strongest storms on Monday, said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Michael Leseney.

As of about noon (1 am Tuesday Singapore time), more than 1,300 US flights had been cancelled on Monday, according to the FlightAware.com website, with another 1,650 delays were reported. Chicago-area airports were worst hit with hundreds of flights cancelled as the city was swept by sleet and hail.

 

More than 30 cm of snow was forecast for southwestern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota, and snow was also falling in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri.

A flash flood warning was in effect in eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois, the National Weather Service said. Thirteen people died in flash floods in those two states during the weekend.

The bad weather caused two candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and US Senator Marco Rubio, to cancel campaign events in Iowa.

Winter storms that brought ice and high winds to Oklahoma downed power lines and 54,000 customers were without power on Monday in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas, Oklahoma Gas & Electric said. Local news reports said there were 100,000 without power across the state.

Operators of the Kerr and Pensacola dams, northeast of Oklahoma City, warned they would have to release large amounts of water due to the storm and area residents might be forced to evacuate their homes.

Six tornadoes were reported on Sunday - three in Arkansas, two in Mississippi, and one in Texas.

Texas was cleaning up from weekend tornadoes that killed at least 11 people in the Dallas area and damaged about 1,600 structures and homes, officials said. One twister in the city of Garland had winds of up to 322 km per hour and killed eight people, including a 30-year-old woman and her year-old son.

Thousands of power outages were reported in Texas on Monday.

Ten deaths and 58 injuries were reported in Mississippi from the Christmas holiday storms, Governor Phil Bryant said at a news conference. Hundreds of homes were damaged.

Some roads still were closed in New Mexico, where Sunday's storms dumped as much as 18 inches of snow on eastern parts of the state. Highways with difficult driving conditions included interstate highways 25 and 10.

With treacherous travel conditions, many who did not have to take to the roads or the skies counted their good fortune.

"Shout out to this ice storm for not making me leave the house today," said one Twitter user, @unoriginalemily.

"Mama and baby girl staying warm inside. #maternityleave #snow #icestorm #blessed," wrote a Midwest mom and blogger, #MamaCurtiss.