Windstorms gusting to more than 70 mph swept Thursday across the East after spawning damaging tornadoes in the Midwest, knocking out power to nearly a million customers, flinging vehicles around like rag dolls and killing at least two people overnight. Meteorologists expected worse Friday.
A MOTORIST who drove past a roadblock was swept away by a creek and killed in West Virginia, and a driver in New York died when when a tree fell and crushed his car. In addition, a Virginia teenager was seriously injured when a tree fell on her as she waited for a school bus.
More than 980,000 customers lost power around the Midwest and the East, including more than 330,000 in Michigan, where gusts up to 74 mph knocked down trees and power lines Wednesday. Scores of school districts canceled classes, and a live power line fell across Interstate 94 near the Detroit airport, creating a monster traffic jam.
High winds continued Thursday as the front moved eastward, dropping a mix of rain and snow. Waves of up to 16 feet were recorded on Lakes Erie and Ontario, and high wind advisories were issued for much of upstate New York.
“It’s a little breezy,” said meteorologist Bob Hamilton in Buffalo, N.Y. “Right now, we’ve got wind gusts coming of about 60 to 65, and that’s just the beginning.”
A severe gust blew a semi-trailer across the center median of the New York State Thruway in Buffalo, depositing it on its side in the eastbound lanes, NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV of Buffalo reported. The driver was not seriously injured, but traffic was backed up for miles.
WGRZ reported that several inches of snow were expected in western areas of the state, with more snow likely in areas commonly hit by lake-effect snow. Most Buffalo schools were closed, as was the Skyway, the elevated highway into downtown.
“There could be near blizzard conditions” with low visibility from the blowing snow, Hamilton said. The storm was likely to down many trees because the ground was not frozen yet, he added.
The winds were lesser in the New York City area, but they were still creating havoc, and conditions there were expected to worsen. LaGuardia Airport reported flight delays of up to three hours, while several students were taken to a hospital as a precaution after a gust knocked a tree onto their school bus Thursday morning, NBC affiliate WNBC-TV reported.
The winds hampered efforts to restore power across the region.
“It’s like shoveling against the tide,” Mike Donovan, a spokesman for Rockland Electric Co. in New Jersey, told WNBC. “You put three services back up and two come back down.”