East Coast, South shudder in deep cold
Damage to Florida crops might be less than feared
KILL DEVIL HILLS, North Carolina (CNN) -- Schoolchildren rode improvised sleds down snow-covered sand dunes Friday after a winter storm dumped almost a foot of snow on North Carolina's barrier islands amid frigid weather that extends down the eastern seaboard.
Snow fell in all of North Carolina's 100 counties, said Ernie Seneca, a state government spokesman.
"We had reports of 8 to 10 inches on the Outer Banks and 4 to 6 inches in coastal counties," Seneca said.
Added to that, "frigid temperatures, sometimes in the single digits" and "bone-chilling winds" are dominating the state, he said.
Main roads in the state were clear Friday but secondary roads were more treacherous, Seneca said. Although hundreds of traffic accidents had occurred, North Carolina's Highway Patrol reported no fatalities.
Seneca attributed the lack of fatalities to many residents staying off the roads.
About 27,000 residents of Apex, about 10 miles from the capital, Raleigh, were without power after a transformer caught fire Friday morning, Seneca said.
A power overload because of high demand for electricity might have sparked the fire, said Patty McQuillan of North Carolina's Emergency Management Office.
A high of 34 degrees Fahrenheit was forecast for the Raleigh area Friday.
"This winter, [North Carolina has] had one heck of a spat of cold weather," Seneca said.
Power companies have advised North Carolinians that they might experience power "brownouts" because of high demand, said government spokeswoman Renee Hoffman.
In Kill Devil Hills, near the site where the Wright brothers made their historic flight, children were enjoying the day off from school as they used water skis and stripped-down skateboards to speed down a towering snow-covered sand dune called "Jockey's Ridge," said Lisa Morrisette, a spokeswoman for Dare County's Emergency Management Office.
"We haven't seen this much snow since 1989," Morrisette said. "My sons took the wheels off their skateboards so they could ride down the dunes."
South Carolina also was recovering Friday from unaccustomed cold weather and snow.
"The Highway Patrol had to deal with a lot of (weather-related) wrecks yesterday, but there were no serious injuries," said Joe Farmer, a state emergency management spokesman. No wrecks were reported overnight or Friday morning, Farmer said.
"For the most part, people did what they were supposed to do and stayed inside," he said. "Southerners don't know how to drive in ice and snow like people from the North do."
The cold air -- from a sagging jet stream that brought the chill from Siberia -- is expected to "shatter records throughout the Southeast on Friday," a statement from the National Weather Service said. (Cross-polar flow explained)
The effects of the bad weather were felt in other ways, as well.
High winds fanned the flames of a residential fire in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on Friday, causing the blaze to spread to two other homes in the upper-end neighborhood, a Virginia Beach emergency spokeswoman said.
Those winds also hampered efforts to put out the fire, which destroyed one of the homes and heavily damaged the other two.
Fire officials did not know if the fire was weather-related, the spokeswoman said.
In Florida, citrus and vegetable growers were counting their blessings Friday after it appeared that temperatures had not gone low enough to significantly damage their crops. (Full story)
The citrus and tomato crop had been largely spared, industry spokespeople said.
The state's strawberry crop might not have fared as well, but it's too early to tell, said Ila Allen of the Strawberry Growers Association.
Because low temperatures are expected Friday night, she said, it might be Saturday before the fields can thaw enough for growers to inspect the fruit for damage.
But, Allen said, "overall, it could have been a lot worse than it was."
Friday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced the release of an additional $200 million from the emergency energy assistance fund for low-income homeowners.
The fund allows HHS and states to respond to energy emergencies such as extreme weather conditions, supply disruptions or price spikes of home heating oil.
The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration predicts that home heating oil prices this winter will be more than 20 percent higher than the average of the previous five winters.
"Higher fuel prices pose a real hardship for many Americans," Thompson said. "This emergency aid will give states the opportunity to help more of their citizens stay warm this winter."