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Winter storm brings new vengeance to SE

BY SUSAN KIM | Washington, DC | January 27, 2000

As people were still reeling from a surprise snow and ice storm along the Atlantic coast earlier this week, a major new storm today is marching across the Southern U.S.

Forecasters have warned that the storm could drop up to a foot of snow in southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas, including Little Rock. To the south, the storm is bringing sleet and ice. By Friday afternoon, significant accumulations could be piling up in Atlanta.

A giant wall of snow traveled up the east coast on Monday and Tuesday, dumping two feet in areas stretching from the Carolinas to New York.

The storm, which forecasters initially predicted would go out to sea, took an unexpected northward turn that took residents by surprise, resulting in several deadly traffic accidents. Thousands of motorists and travelers were stranded on highways and in airports as road crews and the National Guard cleared streets.

The storm was part of the same system that paralyzed Georgia with sleet and ice over the weekend, and more than 150,000 people were still without power in the southeast on Wednesday.

North Carolina -- a state still only beginning to recover from Hurricane Floyd's monumental damage -- appeared hardest hit by the storm, with more than 22 inches of snow. Interstate 85 wasshut down when jackknifed trucks, sliding cars, and snarled traffic resulted in gridlock. The Raleigh-Durham Airport had a record 20.3 inches of snow, and airlines there are not expected to resume services until Thursday morning.

Nearly 127,000 people remained without electricity on Wednesday in North Carolina, where the town of Pinehurst had no water because of power outages. Some 40,000 were still blacked out in South Carolina, where two people were found dead of exposure.

Weather officials reported 20 inches in Maryland, 19 in Virginia, 15 in Washington, D.C. and in parts of Massachusetts, and 14 in southern New Jersey. States of emergency were declared in parts of Georgia, North Carolina, and Maryland.

But, even with the storm's rapid onset and its relative high snowfall, most residents in snow-stricken areas were able to deal with the weather.

"It stayed pretty calm," said Steve Piatelli, fire chief in the town of North East, Md., which was heavily blanketed. "Snow doesn't wreak that much havoc as long as people aren't out of the road."

Piatelli's assessment rang true for this east coast storm, where the majority of storm-related deaths resulted from traffic accidents.

Even in Washington, D.C., a city somewhat infamous for its inability to cope with snowfall, residents and businesses were beginning to reopen on Wednesday, though the federal government was closed for the second day in a row.

The National Cathedral was open for staff but not for visitors. "The trick is how to get home before it ices over," said Carter Echols, canon missioner. "There are no snowplows on the back streets at all."

"The side roads are still a mess," agreed Mary Margaret Gibson, an 81-year-old resident of Silver Spring, Md. who ventured out on Wednesday.

The nearby Mormon Temple in Kensington, Md., was closed Tuesday but reopened for visitors on Wednesday. "There haven't been any visitors yet," said Sister Pauli Perkinson.

The storm caused more difficulty for residents because areas that typically get blanketed got little snow, while areas with typically light snow fall were hit hard.

"This storm was almost like a wall. We got nothing, and we usually get hammered," said Mary Jane Bonser, housing division chief at the Allegheny County Department of Community Services. In western Maryland, "the wind blew terribly but that was all we got."

In Cumberland, Md., a western Maryland town that usually expects high snowfall and flooding, residents were spared. "It's nice for the other end of the state to know they have to deal with it," said Sharon Kazary, executive director of NAILS, an interfaith flood recovery program.

"People act like snow is a disaster but it happens every year," she added.

As residents dug out, better weather greeted much of the east coast on Wednesday. "The sun is shining so beautifully," said Perkinson.

"It really is a lovely day," agreed Gibson -- "but it will all refreeze tonight."

Meanwhile Georgia residents, still reeling from last weekend's ice storm that caused some $35 million in damage, are anxiously watching the forecast. officials fear that more snow and sleet this weekend will snap even more power lines there.

Elsewhere in the U.S., separate storm systems left Indiana with more than a foot of snow Wednesday, and Oklahoma with its first substantial snowfall of the season.

And, along the California-Nevada state line, seven feet of snow has fallen since Sunday. Kirkwood ski resort, south of Lake Tahoe, reported 10 feet of snow in as many days. But, just three weeks ago, the snow pack in the Sierra was 78 percent below normal following a very dry December.

Scientists from NASA, in a report released in January, said there could be more of these kinds of extremes in coming years because of a fundamental shift in temperatures in the western part of the Pacific Ocean.

Climate Prediction Center reported that, this winter, residents should look for below-normal temperatures in the northern states and Alaska and above-normal temperatures in the lower half of the continental United States and Hawaii. Also, dry conditions will likely continue in the southern part of the country, with above-average snow and rain in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast.

Weather extremes are already in evidence across the U.S. While snow covers Washington state's Cascade Mountains, the hillsides north of Los Angeles are scorched black from brush fires, the result of a winter that is hotter and drier than normal.

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