Tornados in South, snow, sleet in East; record heat in West
CENTURY, FLA. >> A treacherous mix of falling snow, sleet and freezing rain turned Tuesday morning commutes to misery for many returning from a long holiday weekend in the Northeast, one day after suspected twisters tore through parts of the South.
In the West, California and Arizona braced for another day of record warm temperatures after basking in the high 80s and low 90s on Monday. Millions along the East Coast, meanwhile, were still shivering from the deep freeze brought on by the latest winter storm.
In Washington, the federal government was opening three hours late after freezing rain coated the nation's capital and surrounding areas in hazardous ice. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which sets leave policies for 300,000 federal workers, said government employees also had the option for unscheduled leave or telework.
Freezing rain fell throughout the Washington area overnight after the major storm system had already dropped several inches of snow Monday, leaving roads and sidewalks slick. Many school systems in the Mid-Atlantic region were opening late or were closed for the day.
A mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain made driving dicey in upstate New York, with winter storm warnings and other advisories posted. Separate tractor-trailer crashes within miles of one another shut down a major upstate New York artery, the Thruway, in both directions for a time early Tuesday just northwest of Albany. Authorities later reopened one lane each way.
The city of Buffalo public works department brought in extra crews to remove the snow that began falling overnight. The National Weather Service said snow accumulations could range from 2 to 4 inches in the Hudson Valley to as much as 18 inches in areas between Rochester and Buffalo.
On Monday, suspected tornados tied to the vast storm system turned several homes to rubble in the northwest corner of Florida's Panhandle and in Mississippi. Authorities say more than a dozen homes were destroyed in both states. There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries from those reported tornadoes though witnesses said one 94-year-old woman had to be pulled out of the Florida storm debris.
Officials in Florida and Mississippi were investigating reports of at least three possible tornadoes. One of the apparent twisters swept through Century, a rural town in the northwest Florida Panhandle, destroying or significantly damaging about 10 homes, Escambia County spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka said.
Donald Pugh was at home in Century when the funnel tore through his neighborhood of small wood-frame houses and mobile homes, downing trees and power lines. Pugh told The Associated Press that he and other neighbors used a chain saw to free a 94-year-old woman from the debris of her home.
"It took us quite a while," he said, adding she was trapped under a twisted metal door. The woman talked to the men as they worked to free her. "She was telling us where she was and that she was OK," Pugh added.
She appeared to have minor injuries and was taken to a hospital as a precaution, authorities said.
Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown said search crews also combed through the debris for hours afterward but there were no later reports of any others found in the rubble.
In Mississippi, windows were blown out of cars and two gymnasiums and a library were damaged Monday at a K-12 school in Wesson where children were in attendance when heavy thunderstorms and a possible tornado crossed at least 19 counties. There were no reports of any students injured, said Mississippi Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle. Emergency management officials reported at least 15 buildings and homes damaged or destroyed.
Elsewhere, Virginia remained under a winter storm warning Tuesday morning with authorities warning people to stay off slick roads amid reports of at least three fatal crashes by Virginia State Police.
And many awaited warmer temperatures in the forecast in many areas.
In several Northeastern cities — including New York, Boston and Hartford, Connecticut — temperatures on Sunday had dipped below zero, falling to minus 40 on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
In the West, Arizona and California were baking in the heat: It was 89 on Monday in downtown Los Angeles, breaking 1977's record of 88. The National Weather Service forecasted Phoenix would hit highs of 89 on Tuesday and 92 on Wednesday, above the previous records of 84 and 88 degrees, respectively.
In Phoenix, Arizona, the fire department went so far as to issue safety tips for hot weather — such as not leaving children or pets unattended in vehicles, staying hydrated, and scheduling outdoor activities during the cooler hours of the morning and evening.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Kay in Miami; Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi; and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.
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