Americans brace for more extreme weather as winter’s bite returns

By Thomson Reuters Feb 28, 2024 | 10:39 AM

By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A third of the United States faced the threat of severe weather on Wednesday as strong winds, snow and potential tornadoes threatened the Southeast, Ohio Valley and East Coast, while a fierce winter storm bore down on the Northwest.

A day after many Americans basked in a spell of summertime warmth in what is normally the coldest time of year, some 127 million people living in the eastern half of the nation were under wind advisories as colder weather returned. Gusts could reach 45 miles (72 km) per hour, the National Weather Service said.

In the Pacific Northwest, a massive winter storm threatened to bring coastal rains, heavy snow in inland regions and powerful winds through Friday. White-out conditions in some locations will make travel difficult, if not impossible, the NWS said.

“There is a high chance of substantial, long-lasting disruptions to daily life in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” the NWS said in its forecast, referring to the range straddling eastern California.

In addition, potential tornadoes and damaging hail-producing thunderstorms were in the forecast in the Ohio Valley and six inches (15 cm) of snow was expected in eastern and upper Michigan and upper New York, the service said.

Wednesday’s national forecast was a dramatic shift from the unseasonably warm temperatures many Americans in central United States experienced on Monday and Tuesday. Several spots in Texas experienced record-breaking temperatures ranging as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7°C) over the two days.

Strong winds and relative low humidity in Texas were helping stoke four wildfires burning in the state’s panhandle, where several small towns were evacuated. The largest, dubbed the Smokehouse Creek Fire, had consumed 500,000 acres as of Wednesday morning and crews had not yet contained any of it, the Texas A&M Forest Service said.

Just hours after Chicago and other Midwestern cities also enjoyed record-breaking temperatures in the 70-80F (21.1-26.6°C) range, the mercury plummeted into the 20-30F range with gusty winds for the Wednesday morning commute.

“It’s the craziest weather I’ve ever seen and I lived here my whole life,” said Kris Jares, 44, a manager at Buttermilk Geneva, a diner in Geneva, Illinois, some 40 miles (64 km) west of Chicago.

The warm weather in the Midwest was followed by severe thunderstorms and a handful of tornadoes that raced through the region on Tuesday night. Local officials were assessing the damage, but no injuries were reported.

Forecasters said it was difficult to link the remarkable weather patterns to human-induced climate change, but such extremes are becoming more frequent because of global warming. Scientists say the seasonal El Nino weather pattern causing the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean to warm is also contributing to the unusual weather across the nation.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Deepa Babington)