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Start of winter brings snow, ice, warm weather

December 23, 2013

CONCORD, New Hampshire (AP) — The first full day of winter brought a wild mix of weather across the United States on Sunday: ice and high wind in the upper Midwest and northeastern New England states, flooding in the South and record-shattering temperatures in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit (upper teens and low 20s Celsius) along the mid-Atlantic region. Freezing rain across much of eastern Canada turned roads and sidewalks into skating rinks and wreaked havoc on holiday plans at one of the busiest travel times of the year.

Snow and ice knocked out power to 400,000 homes and businesses in Michigan, upstate New York and northern New England, and also left more than 475,000 customers without electricity in eastern Canada. It could be days before the lights are back on everywhere.

“Thoughts are with those without power due to the ice storm,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted. “Please stay safe.”

At least nine deaths were blamed on the storm in the U.S., including five people killed in flooding in Kentucky, three traffic deaths on slick roads in Oklahoma, and a woman who died after a tornado with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) struck in Arkansas. Five people were killed in eastern Canada in highway crashes blamed on severe weather conditions.

In Toronto, warming centers were set up and the city shut down streetcar service and parts of the subway system. The city’s giant Yorkdale Shopping Centre lost power.

Mayor Rob Ford called it one of the worst storms in Toronto’s history.

“My house is freezing cold, I have little kids, we might have to go to a hotel tonight, I’m not quite sure what we’re going to do,” Ford said Sunday. “It’s not good to wake up and have a freezing cold shower.”

Hydro Toronto said about 300,000 customers were without power on Sunday evening as ice-coated tree branches snapped and brought down power lines. The utility’s vice-president Blair Peberdy said crews were initially focusing on restoring power to two hospitals and a water treatment plant.

“We don’t want the water systems in Toronto to go down,” he said.

Anxious passengers found themselves stranded in airports from Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Canada’s Via Rail advised commuters to expect delays on its routes between Toronto and Montreal or Ottawa, and police warned people to stay off the roads if possible. One Via Rail train got stuck in Oshawa due to downed power lines.

In the U.S., as of midafternoon Sunday, more than 700 airline flights had been canceled and more than 11,000 delayed, according to aviation tracking website FlightAware.com.

The icy weather was expected to make roads hazardous through at least Monday from the upper Midwest to northern New England, just days before Christmas.

At the same time, high-temperature records for the date fell for the second straight day in the mid-Atlantic states because of a mass of hot, muggy air from the South.

In New York’s Central Park, the mercury reached 70 degrees F (21 degrees C), easily eclipsing the previous high of 63 F (17 C) from 1998. Records were also set in Wilmington, Delaware, (67 F, 19.5 C), Atlantic City, New Jersey, (68 F, 20 C), and Philadelphia (67 F). Washington tied its 1889 mark at 72 F (22-C).

Temperatures were expected to return to normal by Monday night and Tuesday, dropping back into the 30s F (low single digits C). 7 inches (17.78 centimeters)

The scene was much more seasonal Sunday in Vermont, where Lynne White of West Charleston listened to the cracking of falling tree branches and gazed at the coating of ice on her home.

“It’s actually really pretty,” she said. “Not safe, I’m sure, but it’s pretty.”

Heavy snow in Wisconsin forced dozens of churches to cancel Sunday services. Milwaukee got about 9 inches (23 centimeters). Ice and snow in Oklahoma were blamed for three traffic deaths on slick roads.

In New York’s St. Lawrence County, almost 2 inches (5 centimeters) of ice had accumulated by early Sunday, coating tree limbs and power lines, and a state of emergency was declared to keep the roads clear of motorists.

In Canada, crews struggled to restore service where utility companies said power outages affected about 420,000 customers in Ontario, 51,000 in Quebec and 3,000 in New Brunswick.

So far, the storm’s impact appeared to fall well short of the havoc wreaked by the deadly ice storm that struck eastern Canada in 1998 when more than two dozen people died and about 3 million people — about 10 percent of Canada’s population — was without power during four days of intermittent freezing rain.

Marie-Eve Giguere, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the 1998 storm involved far more freezing rain and ice accumulation than over the past few days.

In Canada, the severe weather conditions, which saw people skating down streets in Kingston, Ontario, were suspected to have played a role in four fatal highway crashes in Quebec and another in Ontario over the weekend.

In Kentucky, five people were killed in flooding caused by the storm system. The bodies of three people were pulled from the Rolling Fork River on Sunday after their vehicle was swept away by floodwaters, a fourth person drowned in Carroll County after a four-wheeler overturned in high water, and a body was discovered in Ballard County near a car abandoned in a flooded ditch.

In Arkansas, authorities said Sunday that a woman was killed after a tornado struck in St. Francis County on Saturday. A man found in a field was hospitalized in serious condition, while the woman’s 3-year-old granddaughter and 25-year-old daughter were treated at a hospital.

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Associated Press writers Mary Esch in Albany, New York, Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, New Jersey, Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, David Goodman in Detroit, Rick Callahan in Indianapolis and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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