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Wide band of snow, ice hits Midwest

Wildfires, southern freeze, tornadoes, earthquakes batter country.

BY JIM SKILLINGTON | BALTIMORE | January 26, 2009

Snow and ice is falling in the Midwest and mid-south regions of the United States. The winter storm stretches from Oklahoma to eastern Kentucky. Warnings include winter storm warnings as well as ice storm warnings for the region.

The storm is expected to move into the mid-Atlantic and northeast U.S. Tuesday and Wednesday. Forecasters in New York City are expecting a few inches of snow from the storm while mid-Atlantic meteorologists are forecasting one to two inches of snow and ice for that region.

A cold front sits behind the storm with another winter weather event already developing in Colorado that could hit the same areas again later this week.

Near Hawley, Texas, eight homes were destroyed in a wildfire that burned more than 2,000 acres. The Texas Forest Service said at least five hunting cabins, 20 outbuildings and a number of vehicles were also destroyed.

Firefighters responded to dozens of wildfires across the state last week and a man was killed when a grassfire swept through an area of homeless camps near Austin.

Texas authorities issued outdoor fire bans after weather conditions turned optimum for spontaneous wildfires. On Thursday and Friday, fire officials responded to more than 45 intense wildfires. The fires burned more than 16,000 acres by Saturday evening.

The incoming cold front, including high winds and record low humidity, combined with lower than expected rain totals have prompted the warnings. "We're critically dry across the state," said Nick Harrison, a spokesperson for the Texas Forest Service.

The Texas Interagency Interfaith Disaster Response, while warning residents to observe the burn ban, on Friday emailed its supporters a list of 10 steps to protect homes from wildfires.

The Florida Department of Agriculture said 70 million citrus trees and tens of thousands of acres of fresh fruits and vegetables are located in regions where temperatures were below 30 degrees for several hours last week. Farmers and state agricultural experts are assessing how the recent cold temperatures may have affected those crops.

According to Rick Heers, executive director of I-Hope, farmers are expecting 30 percent of the workforce to be out of work for the short-term. Heers said farmers are expecting to be able to clean up the frost and replant this season. Tender squash, cucumbers and pickle cucumbers were most vulnerable to the cold temperatures. According to Heers, farmers are estimating a 30 percent loss on those crops. He said not only will they need less work in the short-term, but pack houses may have a small decline in work as well.

In south-central Alaska, many residents were eating breakfast Saturday morning when a strong, magnitude 5.7 earthquake rattled the dishes. The quake struck about 9:09 a.m. local time near the mouth of Cook Inlet, about 50 miles southwest of Homer. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was preceded by 16 smaller quakes that rattled the state earlier in the day.

Emergency officials reported products were dumped off store shelves, but little other damage was reported.

Meanwhile in California, residents spent Sunday cleaning up following a severe storm and reported tornado.

The California Highway Patrol said a tornado touched down in Glenn County near Butte City Saturday afternoon, destroying the roof of a barn and some outbuildings. No one was injured. The twister was part of a severe storm that included large hail and rain.

Stephanie Backus contributed to this story.


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