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Winter storm leaves over 800,000 in Michigan without power

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Posted at 10:10 AM, Feb 24, 2023

California and other parts of the West girded Friday for floods and blizzards from the latest winter storm to pound the U.S., while thousands of people in Michigan shivered through extended power outages wrought by one of the worst ice storms in decades.

The National Weather Service warned of a “cold and dangerous winter storm” that began Thursday and was expected to linger through Saturday in California. As much as 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow could fall in some mountains near Los Angeles, potentially creating whiteout conditions as winds gust to 75 mph (120 kph) and an increased risk of avalanches, forecasters said.

The weather service issued rare blizzard warnings for Southern California mountain areas and urged drivers to avoid dangerous roads.

Meanwhile, a storm that battered the Plains and Midwest for days began to diminish, the weather service said, but gusty winds could still cause blowing and drifting snow. And in the Pacific Northwest, residents began to recover from snow that brought traffic to a standstill in Portland.

Much of Oregon’s largest city was shut down after almost a foot (30 centimeters) of snow fell unexpectedly. It took drivers in Portland by surprise, stalling traffic during the Wednesday evening rush hour and trapping motorists on freeways, some of whom spent the night in their cars.

Maia Foley-Weintraub’s 5-year-old son had to spend the night in childcare because she was stuck in traffic for nine hours. It took her until 2 a.m. Thursday to make it home.

“People were just spinning out and getting stuck left and right,” she said. “It was just one thing after another. I did not have any idea that that was going to turn out the way it did.”

The weather has closed major roads around the U.S., caused traffic pileups, closed schools and snarled air travel. As of Friday morning, more than 1,000 flights were delayed and over 850 were canceled, according to FlightAware.com. That was down from more 14,000 delayed flights and 2,000 grounded flights Thursday.

All told, the storms have blacked out nearly 1 million homes and businesses from coast to coast. Michigan was hardest hit after a storm coated branches, power lines and utility poles with ice, putting more than 820,000 customers in the dark at one point. By Friday, that was down to more than 700,000, many in the state's populous southeast corner, around Detroit.

Some 3,000 power lines were toppled after being coated with ice as thick as three-quarters of an inch, and crews struggled to get power back by the end of Sunday, utilities said.

“Utilities across the country fear ice storms like we fear nothing else,” said Trevor Lauer, president of DTE Electric. “We’ve not had an ice storm in the last 50 years that has impacted our infrastructure like this.”

Temperatures were expected to remain far below normal, with lows below zero (minus 18 Celsius) in the Upper Midwest before warming to near or above normal by the end of the weekend.

Parts of Interstate 80 in California and Wyoming closed, including about a 70-mile (112-kilometer) stretch over the top of the Sierra Nevada linking California and Nevada.

Ice is believed to have caused a pileup on the Massachusetts Turnpike late Thursday in Brimfield, involving about 15 vehicles, including tractor-trailers. People were taken to the hospital, but the number and extent of injuries weren't clear. Eastbound lanes remained closed early Friday.

A Michigan firefighter died Wednesday after coming in contact with a downed power line in Paw Paw, authorities said.

In Southern California, the latest storm began moving in Thursday with rain and snow flurries. Flood watches and warnings were in effect through Saturday afternoon for some coastal regions and valleys, and the potential for rainfall causing flooding and debris flow in some areas burned by wildfires in recent years.

Evacuation warnings also were issued in Ventura County for four areas considered unstable after being hit hard by storms last month.

The weather service said temperatures could drop far below normal in the region, posing a special risk to homeless people.

Terry Stephens, who lives in a trailer with her son and his girlfriend in Palmdale, was temporarily placed in a hotel room northeast of Los Angeles after shivering through the night Wednesday.

“It was frigid; your bones ache and you can’t get warm,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I had three blankets on me last night and I was still freezing. Nothing helped.”