New Orleans tornado, snow in winter weather
A winter storm brought near-blizzard conditions to much of the U.S. Midwest on Tuesday, forcing schools to close and disrupting transportation across the region, while a deadly tornado ripped through New Orleans.
The National Weather Service issued warnings of hazardous weather and winter storms for the Midwest up through the northeastern United States. As much as 3 feet (1 meter) of snow were forecast for parts of New England with wind chills down to 35 degrees (-37C) below zero.
The advancing system unleashed severe thunderstorms and the tornado on New Orleans, knocking out power and killing an elderly woman living in a trailer provided to Hurricane Katrina victims, police superintendent Warren Riley said.
The National Weather Service said one tornado was confirmed but there may have been others.
The hardest-hit areas in the Midwest could get up to a foot of snow in a band across the middle parts of Illinois, Indiana and into northwest Ohio, forecasters said.
Much of that same area was under a blizzard warning because winds up to 40 mph (64 km/h) threatened white-out conditions, the weather service said. It advised that travel would be extremely dangerous.
In Washington, the federal government shut down early as the threat of snow and sleet spread eastward. At the State Department, it was a quick day for Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte as he took up his new job in the department’s No. 2 post.
“One of my first acts is to declare this a snow day,” he said.
Mitsubishi Motors North America closed its assembly plant at Normal, Illinois, after 250 people in its 1,700-member workforce could not make it to the plant because of road conditions. The icy roads also disrupted the flow of parts to the plant.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said plant spokesman Dan Irvin. “It’s the wind. It’s snowing horizontally.”
About six inches had fallen and the wind had created tall snowdrifts.
School closings were common from the Kansas City area east to St. Louis, through Indianapolis to Ohio and north to the Chicago region.
The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana closed for the day, giving more than 41,000 students an unexpected day off.
In Columbus, Ohio, the state legislature canceled its Tuesday session.
More than 700 flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and more than 200 more at Midway.
United Airlines spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said the airline canceled half its flights into and out of O’Hare and that its operations at Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National and Dulles airports would be shut down after 7 p.m. EST through Wednesday morning.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Web site said weather-related delays also affected flights into the New York area’s three major airports — JFK, LaGuardia and Newark, New Jersey. Flights into Philadelphia International were delayed an average of nearly six hours.
The New Orleans tornado knocked out power to as many as 29,000 customers, Entergy Corp. said.
Mayor Ray Nagin, touring the newly damaged areas, told Reuters the tornado was another setback for the city, which has less than half its pre-Katrina population of 500,000.
“For the city, it’s a bad thing, because it further unnerves everybody that’s trying to recover from Katrina,” he said.