Lake Erie surged over its eastern shore Wednesday, adding flooding to the headaches delivered by a windy storm that tipped tractor-trailers, disrupted flights, and toppled trees and power lines across a wide swath of the nation.
A cold front and arctic air roared into New York before dawn, sending Tuesday’s springlike temperatures plummeting. Buffalo went from 53 degrees at 3 a.m. Wednesday to 15 degrees by noon. Classes were canceled at most area schools.
High winds were suspected of collapsing a scaffold at a Brooklyn building that killed a construction worker and seriously injured another Wednesday morning.
In northern Ohio, a train traveling in high winds derailed on a bridge over Sandusky Bay around 4 a.m., sending about 10 freight cars into the water, said Ottawa County Sheriff Robert Bratton. No injuries were reported.
Authorities on Tuesday rescued five people camping in a van near Elkton, Ore., the Douglas County sheriff’s office said. They had planned to leave Sunday but were trapped by snow. With supplies dwindling, one man hiked to find cell phone service and to contact relatives in Tacoma, Wash., who then notified authorities.
In Washington state, an avalanche forced the closure of the westbound lane of snowy Interstate 90, the state’s main east-west thoroughfare, at Snoqualmie Pass. That happened just hours after the road was reopened following its longest weather closure since 2002.
Winds, ice create havoc
The National Weather Service in Buffalo reported sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph, with a peak gust of 68 mph around 10:30 a.m. Across the state, peaks of 46 mph were reported at LaGuardia Airport and close to 50 mph at Kennedy Airport.
Several inches of icy water covered some roads in Buffalo’s Old First Ward neighborhood after Lake Erie suddenly rose 10½ feet around 6 a.m. and left behind chunks of ice as it receded through the morning.
“Lake Erie is so shallow that when you get a wind shift of such magnitude ... it’s almost like in a bathtub when you get the water moving back and forth,” Weather Service meteorologist Joseph Pace explained. A flash flood warning was in effect along the Niagara River and Buffalo Harbor all morning.
At least two tractor-trailers blew over on the New York State Thruway in western New York. Numerous accidents led the state police to close a 60-mile stretch of the highway between Buffalo and Rochester just before 2 p.m.
A 25-vehicle pileup on Interstate 81 south of Watertown during whiteout conditions forced the closure of the southbound lane. The front end of a state police cruiser was wedged under the back end of one of several big rigs.
Inside Nick’s Texas Hots in Buffalo, workers Thomas Knapp and Cindy Jimerson kept their eyes on a mass of aluminum, perhaps a shed or awning, that Knapp wrestled to the side of the road after watching it sail from a parking lot.
“If someone was walking it would have cut their head off,” Jimerson said from behind the diner’s counter.
Utilities worked to restore power to thousands of customers in upstate New York, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois.
In Rhinelander, Wis., temperatures dropped from 37 degrees on Tuesday to minus 19 overnight.
“It is like one day it is spring and the next day you are in the middle of never-never land,” said Bill Larson, 60, who lives two miles to the east. “You are in the same place, but it is like two different worlds.”
In Chicago, rush-hour commuters scurried to work through the bitter cold.
“I’m actually looking forward to work,” said Tom Gilmartin.
Two major highways in southern Minnesota reopened early Wednesday as wind died down and snow stopped falling, but the state remained in a deep freeze, with the temperature dipping as low as minus 27 in the northeast.
As the sometimes unpredictable storm barreled eastward Tuesday, tornadoes or reports of tornadoes surfaced in several communities.
A tornado hopscotched through Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday night, tearing the roofs from several buildings and toppling trees and power lines. Joe Sullivan, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said there were three tornadoes in the metro area.
In Indiana, severe thunderstorms packing wind gusts of 80 mph killed three people in mobile homes and a fourth who died in a car crash, authorities said. Firefighters pulled the bodies of an elderly woman and her daughter from a mobile home flipped over by the wind Tuesday night near Poseyville in southwestern Indiana.
The weather week began with heavy snow pummeling mountain areas from Washington state to northern Arizona as two storms converged, one from California and another from the Gulf of Alaska, meteorologists said. Another storm soon followed.
A fourth was on the way to the interior West. “By Thursday, the next storm will be right on our doorstep. This is quite a storm system,” Breidenbach said.