(Changes dateline, byline, adds Buffalo color)
WASHINGTON, Dec 26 (Reuters) - A powerful winter storm that
has claimed at least five lives pounded the U.S. Midwest and
Northeast and snarled post-Christmas travel on Wednesday after
rare tornadoes pummeled the Gulf Coast.
Heavy snow and high winds prompted National Weather Service
blizzard and winter storm warnings for the Ohio River Valley and
into the Northeast. Fifteen inches (37.5 cm) of snow were
recorded at New Baltimore, Michigan, as the storm headed north
About 1,500 U.S. flights were canceled on Wednesday,
according to FlightAware.com, a site that tracks flights. Some
170 flights also have been called off for Thursday, and several
airlines waived ticket change fees for affected customers.
All four runways at Philadelphia International Airport were
open on Wednesday, but some travelers still faced some canceled
Mary Mazzoni, 25, an environmental writer from Scottsdale,
Arizona, had to book an alternate flight on a different airline
after her original flight to Phoenix was canceled. She is
scheduled to ar rive in Phoenix late on Wednesday.
"It's a little annoying. But I'm trying to keep a good
attitude about it," said Mazzoni, who was returning to Arizona
after visiting relatives for the Christmas holidays.
The National Weather Service warned that 12 to 18 inches (30
to 45 cm) of snow were expected in northern New England, with
snow falling through Friday morning. The storm was accompanied
by freezing rain and sleet, making driving treacherous, it said.
Across central New York, about 25 minor accidents were
reported in a two-hour span Wednesday along major highways, said
New York State Police Sergeant Nick Merritt.
"Right now we have additional patrols out on the roads in
case we need them," he said.
If predictions of up to 16 inches (40 cm) of snow come true,
Buffalo will still be well below average for snowfall, said Bill
Hibbert, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
Buffalo's snowfall is 23 inches (57.5 cm) below normal for the
Severe thunderstorms and widespread rain were expected from
southeast Virginia to Florida, the agency said. The eastern
counties in North Carolina and South Carolina were under tornado
watches or warnings for much of the day.
The winter storm had swept out of the southern Great Plains
and through the South on Tuesday. The system spawned at least 34
A Texas man died after an accident involving a toppled tree
in the road. Icy roads contributed to the deaths of four people
in auto crashes in Oklahoma and Arkansas, according to police.
Twisters struck in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and
Louisiana, flattening houses and causing injuries, according to
the weather service. The storm also dumped record snowfalls in
north Texas and Arkansas.
Nearly 200,000 homes and businesses had no electricity in
Arkansas and Alabama on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins and Ian Simpson; Additional
reporting by Corrie MacLaggan, Eileen O'Grady, Steve Olafson,
Dave Warner and Neale Gulley; Editing by Paul Thomasch and