Fierce winter storm moves SE

BY SUSAN KIM | Milwaukee, WI | December 13, 2000

The entire eastern half of the U.S. was battered by high winds, ice, snow -- or all three -- on Tuesday and into Wednesday as the fierce storm from the Midwest moved eastward.

Ice fell throughout Texas and Arkansas on Tuesday with more on the way later this week.

The eastern U.S. was also battered by high winds on Tuesday, with 80 mph winds causing flight cancellations, downed trees, and power outages stretching from Ohio to Massachusetts.

In Pennsylvania, a tree blew into a mobile home, killing one woman as she slept. Another man was killed when a tree crushed his pickup truck.

Some 300,000 homes lost power in Ohio. In West Virginia, where wind blew down the 70-foot Capitol Christmas tree, nearly 40,000 homes were without power. In New York and New Jersey, airborne construction debris caused several traffic mishaps.

Bitter cold and blizzard-like conditions also hit the Midwest this week after comparatively mild winters the last few years.

Clear skies on Wednesday helped residents dig out.

O'Hare Airport canceled hundreds of flights on Monday as the storm dropped more than a foot of snow on Illinois.

"It's winter in Wisconsin," said Lori Getter, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management.

The storm was the worst in four years for the Midwest, forecasters said, because after several years of temperature-warming La Nina or El Nino, this year neither weather phenomenon is present.

But Wisconsin's temperatures seem like a heat wave compared to the subzero weather in North Dakota. "It's going to get up to seven below today. Cars aren't starting. Gas lines are freezing. We wonder how long the duration will be," said Rob Keller, public affairs officer for the North Dakota National Guard.

The temperatures won't ease up anytime soon, said Daniel Noah, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in North Dakota. "They may sneak up on Friday."

Noah added that the winter weather seems worse than usual because the Midwest has enjoyed a winter reprieve for the past few years.

"In the past few years, we've had a combination of El Nino and La Nina, and this year we don't have either," said Noah. "We've only had two winters since 1990 with below-normal temperatures. It seems a lot colder to people because they're no longer used to it."

"This is a little more than what we've had in the last few years but more of our normal winter," agreed Mark Wesley, spokesperson for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

"This is not unusual," said Pam Bright, spokesperson for the Indiana Emergency Management Agency.

But Utah -- the skiers' haven -- has had "more than usual snow for the month of November," said Paula Ernstrom, spokesperson for the Utah Division of Comprehensive Emergency Management. Salt Lake and Davis counties chalked up another 16 inches this week.

If this winter is "back to normal" for the Midwest, it has a major economic difference from the past, at least in some areas. An increase in the cost of heating oil has many families worried about their winter bills. "I've heard reports that the costs have gone up 30 percent in some areas," said Keller. "In rural areas, costs for fuel are even higher because those residents have to have fuel brought out to them."

Kansas City was also seized by bitter cold, with temperatures already colder than any day last winter. This week residents looked at a high of nine degrees. With wind chill, the temperature feels like 30 below.

"The cold is absolutely terrible," said Joy Moser, spokesperson for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. Moser added that she thought ample warning helped people take the right precautions.

Cheri Baer, a Church World Service disaster resource consultant, said that she was concerned that there will be not only increased deaths related to freezing temperatures this winter but also an increase in fires because more people will be using additional heat sources.

"I said a prayer to have people be very careful if they use additional heat because I know we'll hear of fires this winter," she said. "Also, I know we're going to hear about people freezing to death. We have to take care of the elderly."

Like Keller, Baer was concerned that the rise in fuel would pose hardship to families trying to stay warm. "Churches and other groups are smart enough to know they will have to help people with their heating bills this year," she said.

The annual death toll in the nation due to various impacts of frigid air is 770 people.

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