A brutal winter storm that trapped drivers on icy roads, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes, grounded flights and closed schools across much of the United States is expected to hit California on Thursday.
“A very busy week ahead of us!” the San Diego office of the National Weather Service tweeted. “We have issued alerts for dangerous winds, heavy snowfall in mountains, very dangerous sailing conditions, and the list goes on.”
For the first time since 1989, the weather service issued a blizzard warning for the mountains of southern California that would be in effect through Saturday. Some coastal areas could register waves of 3 meters (10 feet) and a few of up to 4.3 meters (14 feet) on Thursday, according to experts.
“Almost the entire population of California will be able to see snow from a vantage point this week if they look in the right direction (i.e., higher surrounding hills),” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted.
Part of a series expected to affect the country throughout the week, the storm wreaked havoc from coast to coast. At any given time Wednesday there were more than 65 million people under weather alerts in more than two dozen states.
Winter weather hit the northern United States hard, where schools, offices and even the Minnesota Legislature were closed. Some 90 churches in western Michigan have canceled Ash Wednesday services, WZZM-TV reported.
Roads in much of southern Wyoming were impassable, the state Department of Transportation said on social media.
Rescuers were trying to reach the people stranded in the vehicles but faced an “almost impossible situation,” said Wyoming Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeremy Beck.
“They already know where they are, but it is difficult for them to get” to where they are needed, he added.
In the Pacific Northwest, strong winds and snow in the Cascade Mountains prevented search teams from reaching the bodies of three climbers who died in an avalanche on Washington’s Colchuck Peak over the weekend.
Heavier-than-expected snowfall during rush hour caused traffic accidents in Portland, Oregon, and hour-long traffic jams. The regional bus service offered free rides to homeless people to shelters where they could warm themselves.
In Arizona, about 180 miles (289 kilometers) of Interstate 40 was closed, while New Mexico State Police closed roads in Gallup, along the border with Arizoan.
The National Weather Service warned of the possibility of blizzards with gales without visibility, especially Thursday afternoon and evening, when up to half an inch (1.2 centimeters) of snow could fall per hour.
In California, a blizzard alert was in effect on Saturday for the highlands of the Sierra Nevada, where forecasters expected several feet (about a meter) of snow and wind gusts of 60 miles per hour, with temperatures that could fall to -40 Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius).
Power grids suffered as ice engulfed power lines in the north and wind downed wires or entangled tree branches and other debris in California.
More than 579,000 customers were without power in Michigan as of Wednesday night, as well as more than 117,000 in Illinois and about 45,000 in California, according to the PowerOutage.us website.
The weather also forced nearly 1,800 flights to be canceled and more than 6,000 delayed in the United States, according to the FlightAware flight data service.
Few places were spared from bad weather, including some at opposite ends. Old records were broken in cities in the Northwest, Mid-Atlantic Coast, and Southeast.
Relief was not expected this week. In the north of the country, more than 18 inches (46 centimeters) of snow could accumulate in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the National Weather Service said Wednesday night.
The storm would move toward the east coast throughout the week. Places where there is no snow could register dangerous frosts, experts warned.
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