By Elizabeth Wolfe, Robert Shackelford and Joe Sutton, CNN
(CNN) — A wide-reaching winter storm that pummeled much of the eastern half of the country Tuesday, knocking out power in several states and prompting the closure of highways, schools and government offices was dumping heavy rain across the Northeast on Tuesday night. Here’s the latest:
• Major cities are seeing heavy rain: Several major metropolitan areas along the East Coast could see flooding, including Washington, DC, and New York City, where rainfall of 2 to 4 inches is possible. The heaviest rainfall is expected between Tuesday night and early Wednesday, the National Weather Service in New York said, warning of river flooding and urban flooding in areas of poor drainage that could disrupt transportation, flood basements, first floors and underground infrastructures. Annapolis, Maryland, could get some of the worst flooding the city has ever seen, city spokesperson Mitchelle Stephenson told CNN.
• Deaths reported in North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama: One person died and two were critically injured in a mobile home community in North Carolina’s Catawba County, according to county communications director Amy McCauley. She said the area sustained damage, adding the National Weather Service was evaluating if it was a tornado. In Georgia, a driver was killed while traveling on a highway after a tree fell on the vehicle. Clayton County police told CNN Tuesday that weather was a factor in the death. In Alabama, an 81-year-old woman was killed in Cottonwood when her mobile home repeatedly flipped during the storm, Houston County Commission Chairman Brandon Shoupe said. A second person in Alabama died when a tree fell on a vehicle, Birmingham fire and rescue Capt. Orlando Reynolds said Tuesday.
• Tornadoes reported in the Southeast: Fourteen tornadoes were reported across Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina on Tuesday, causing significant damage and prompting rescues in Florida’s panhandle. More than 3 million people in Florida were under tornado watches issued by the Storm Prediction Center as of Tuesday night.
• Strong winds bring widespread power outages: More than 29 million people in the US were under a high wind warning Tuesday night, reflecting winds that are causing widespread power outages. More than 800,000 homes and businesses across the eastern US had outages Tuesday night, mainly in Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia, according to tracker PowerOutage.us.
• Up to a foot of snow possible from central US to Northeast: Winter storm alerts are in effect from portions of Missouri and Iowa through Michigan and interior parts of the Northeast and New England. Widespread snowfall between 6 to 12 inches is possible and some areas could see even more. The snowfall will begin to let up in the Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast on Wednesday.
• Travel delays and cancellations: Airlines have canceled 1,300 flights within, into or out of the US Tuesday, and more than 8,600 flights were delayed, according to data from FlightAware. Some of those are due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 9, but thunderstorms caused significant disruptions in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Florida and North Carolina airports.
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Florida declares state of emergency
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Tuesday for 49 of the state’s 67 counties, citing the danger of tornadoes, strong winds, hail and flash flooding.
DeSantis said the state has experienced more than 20 tornado warnings so far with four tornadoes confirmed on the ground.
There have been some injuries but no fatalities during severe weather in northern Florida, according to Florida Division of Emergency Management Executive Director Kevin Guthrie.
Guthrie said most of the injuries reported so far have been minor, adding there were five “trauma alerts” in Bay County where some of the most severe damage was seen.
Responders rescued people from structures in Bay County, where multiple tornadoes hit the ground and caused significant damage and road closures, Sheriff Tommy Ford said. Ford urged residents to seek shelter.
A tornado watch was issued for parts of Florida including Tampa and Orlando that are home to over 10 million people until 9 p.m. ET, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
“An intense line of thunderstorms currently in the eastern Gulf of Mexico will track across the central Florida Peninsula this afternoon,” the center said. They also noted the threat of a few strong tornadoes along with the threat of damaging thunderstorm wind gusts of 70 mph.
Northeast braces for rain and wind
In the Northeast, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a state of emergency for New Jersey in preparation for the potentially dangerous weather. And Mayor André Sayegh of Paterson, New Jersey, declared a state of emergency for the city effective at 5 p.m. Tuesday in anticipation of a “torrential downpour.”
Paterson was hit hard by a coastal storm last month that trapped people in flooded vehicles and prompted overnight water rescues.
“We’ve learned lessons from a few weeks ago, and quite frankly, we want to assure residents that we are prioritizing their safety,” Sayegh said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the storm could be “life threatening” and warned of the potentially dangerous combination of expected rainfall with heavy snow from this past weekend. She said the Hudson Valley has a 70% chance of flash-flooding.
“We were able to handle this weekend’s snow event very well, but tomorrow’s storm is different and we’re taking it very seriously,” Hochul said Monday evening. The state is readying more than 8,000 utility workers, four water rescue teams and dozens of massive generators, she said.
Suffolk County, New York, issued a state of emergency in preparation for the incoming storm. “Residents are strongly advised not to travel during the height of the storm. Road conditions are anticipated to be unsafe and wind gusts may bring down tree limbs and power lines,” Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine said in a statement on Facebook.
The coming storm has also prompted school and government office closures in several states on Tuesday, including North Carolina and Florida, where more than 30 K-12 school districts have canceled classes.
The system will dissipate by the week’s end, but relief is still not in sight for many across the eastern US. Another storm could follow on Friday and into the weekend, impacting many of the same areas.
Blizzard conditions trap travelers
Blizzard conditions buried parts of the southern Plains and central US under heavy snow and blistering winds on Monday, creating perilous road conditions that trapped drivers, forced several highway closures and at times made rescues near-impossible.
Iowa authorities on Tuesday afternoon urged drivers to stay off roads, warning of “dangerous whiteout conditions and numerous crashes” on Interstate 80, east of Des Moines to the Illinois state line and the Cedar Rapids area. An Iowa state trooper’s car was struck by another vehicle in the snowy conditions and heavily damaged, but the trooper was out of his vehicle and no one was injured, his agency said.
In Kansas, law enforcement rescued more than two dozen people stranded during blizzard conditions and moved them to a high school for safety.
“We did take about 25-30 people, including children, to Wheatland High School in Grainfield,” Kansas Highway Patrol spokesperson Tod Hileman told CNN Tuesday.
By Monday night, the agency had responded to more than 300 service calls, handled more than 60 crashes that didn’t involve injuries and responded to 14 crashes involving injuries, according to a post on X, formerly Twitter.
Further west in New Mexico, 50 drivers were stranded amid blizzard conditions on Highway 56 in northeastern Union County and had to be dug out, the local sheriff’s office said Monday.
Flooding poses significant risks
Flooding is a serious concern as the storm’s strong winds blow water onshore while communities are also inundated with rain.
“Widespread heavy rainfall will likely lead to significant river and flash flooding from the western Carolinas to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and scattered to numerous flash floods will be possible,” the National Weather Service said Tuesday. “The highest flash flood chances are over the far western Carolinas and from northern/central Virginia through southern New York and into Connecticut to Rhode Island where there is a moderate risk of excessive rainfall.”
New York City issued a travel advisory and flood watch that’s set to start Tuesday evening, warning of heavy rain, strong wind and the potential of coastal flooding.
“Let me be clear,” Hochul said in a Monday news briefing. “This will be an emergency, it will be serious and we’re urging all New Yorkers to exercise extreme caution at this time.”
Heavy rain will accelerate snowmelt and increase the amount of water running off into waterways, raising the ceiling on the flood potential in these areas.
CNN’s Sara Smart, Lauren Mascarenhas, Nicki Brown, Dave Hennen, Mary Gilbert, Taylor Ward, Jennifer Feldman, Maria Sole Campinoti, Shawn Nottingham, Jennifer Henderson, Amanda Jackson, Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean contributed to this report.
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