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New storms headed for Midwest, Northeast

Another wintry blast was forecast Friday for the nation's midsection, while the Northeast dug out from heavy snow before it gets a second hit Saturday.
Image: Alicia Montesano, of Arlington, Mass., clears snow from her car at Logan International Airport
Alicia Montesano, of Arlington, Mass., clears snow from her car at Logan International Airport in Boston, Friday, Dec. 14, 2007, a day after the first major snowstorm of the season hit the area. Michael Dwyer / AP
/ Source: news services

Lisa Wofford had just moved out of her apartment and was planning to move her family into a house when a winter storm knocked a power pole onto the new digs, preventing her from closing on it.

By Friday, the newly homeless Wofford was on her fifth day at an American Red Cross shelter, and an approaching snowstorm cast even more uncertainty on her future.

“I’m praying for no snow. I don’t want to be here any longer,” Wofford said before starting in on her lunch of pasta and green beans. “I’ve slept, like, seven hours since Monday. I’m running on faith.”

The second wintry blast could complicate efforts to restore power to the more than 280,000 homes and businesses in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri still blacked out after the first storm put a million customers in the dark at its height this week.

That storm, which coated much of the Plains in ice before moving dumping snow on the Northeast, has killed at least 38 people, mostly in traffic accidents. It has been blamed for 23 deaths in Oklahoma alone.

Utilities in the Plains said nearly 400,000 customers remained without power on Friday due to ice storms this week. Electric companies reported that more than 800,000 of the 1.2 million customers who lost power have had it restored.

The next storm was predicted to bring 2 to 6 inches of snow to parts of Kansas and Oklahoma, said Ken Harding, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Recovery efforts hampered in Midwest
The service issued winter weather watches for the northwest two-thirds of Oklahoma from Friday afternoon through Saturday morning. By late Friday afternoon, snow was already falling on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.

An Xcel Energy serviceman working to restore power in an Oklahoma City neighborhood peppered by toppled trees said Friday that he expected the new storm to hamper recovery efforts, but not create massive new power failures.

“All this kind of work is safety-based, so any time you get another weather aspect, then there goes another safety factor,” said Scott Falkner, of Clovis, N.M.

Weather Service meteorologist Pete Snyder agreed with that assessment.

“For crews that are out there trying to restore power, it’d be more of a headache,” Snyder said.

The storm also threatened to steal manpower from efforts to clear fallen trees. Dan Crossland, a public works official in Tulsa, said almost every city crew removing downed tree limbs will be spun off to clear the streets when the second storm comes.

“I intend to stay on 12-hour shifts until every street is clear,” Crossland said. “These guys are dragging.”

The Kansas National Guard continued to deliver generators and supplies to communities, knowing more would be needed.

Northeast also braces for blanketing
The first storm changed from ice to snow as it blew into the Northeast, dumping 2 inches to a foot across the region and catching many municipalities by surprise, even after it wreaked havoc to the west.

The National Weather Service said the region could expect another blast over the weekend, when a second storm is expected to drop 6 inches of snow and sleet starting on Saturday evening.

“As the system gets to the Northeast, it’s really going to intensify and deepen and this is going to cause a lot of trouble,” said Brian Korty, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

"It is a powerful Northeaster," added colleague Charlie Foley. "The difference in this storm is that it is going to occur during the overnight hours and on the weekend, so we wouldn't expect it to have the impact that this thing yesterday did."

Thursday's snowfall in Boston set a new one-day record for Dec. 13 and was more than the 7.8 inches that typically falls during the entire month of December.

‘Airlines will have to play catch up’
Logan Airport had returned to normal operations by Friday, with about 41 outbound flights canceled, said spokesman Phil Orlandella. On Thursday, more than 400 flights were canceled.

"The airlines will have to play catch up for a couple of days," Orlandella said. "It's not a madhouse here, things are moving pretty well."

He said airport management did not yet know how their operations would be affected by the weekend storm.

Some commuters in Boston spent eight hours driving home Thursday evening, and public school buses were still dropping off students at 11 p.m.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick defended the state’s storm response Friday after meeting with public safety, transportation and emergency officials.

“People were asked to leave early, and they didn’t,” Patrick said. “What would have helped, I think in this case, would have been a more uniform early release.”

As the snow fell, traffic on Rhode Island highways backed up past the Massachusetts state line, and about 300 vehicles got stuck or collided with others.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline ordered an investigation into why dozens of school buses got stranded on city streets.

But while the worst was over in the Northeast, at least for now, Plains residents continued to cope with maintaining the basics.

Thousands still in the dark
In Oklahoma, the hardest-hit state, OGE Energy Corp's Oklahoma Gas & Electric unit outages were falling toward 100,000 on Friday, but forecasts calling for another round of freezing weather may slow work by repair crews, said spokesman Gil Broyles.

Snow should be less damaging to trees and power lines than freezing rain so may not increase the outage total but will make restoration efforts tougher, he said.

"We hope the weather won't make us take a step backward, but it may make moving forward more difficult," Broyles said.

OG&E said the storm was the worst in the company's history, leaving more than 300,000 customers without power at its peak.

American Electric Power Co. Inc.'s Public Service Co. of Oklahoma said about 148,000 customers were still without power late Thursday, down from over 250,000 earlier in the week.

PSO estimated it could take up to 10 days to restore power to all customers.

‘It’s cold baths’
Bill Weaver, a Tulsa resident who moved here two years ago to escape hurricane-battered New Orleans, waited in his frigid home Friday for the electricity to be turned back on, deadpanning: “So, here we are.”

He had two gas-log fireplaces going, warming about a third of his home.

“It doesn’t keep the showers warm,” Weaver said. “It’s cold baths.”

Wofford hoped the new storm would blow over and allow her to get back to house-hunting after the weekend. She was trying to stay positive and said her spirits were lifted by volunteers who she knew didn’t have electricity at home, either.

“To me, this experience, you’re going back to what Christmas is really about,” Wofford said. “Everything is real commercialized and ’I want this iPod. I want this.’

“We want basic human needs. It’s getting back to love, and that’s what’s beautiful about the whole thing.”