Winter weather wreaks havoc for the holidays

Story highlights

  • Eight deaths are reported, including five in Kentucky
  • More than 250,000 customers are without power in Toronto
  • New York City sets a record high, breaking old mark of 63 degrees
  • Heavy rain and severe winds hit the Southeast

At least eight people are dead after a bizarre mix of weather across the country spawned tornadoes, ice storms and record-setting warmth this weekend.

Four of the deaths involved two vehicle accidents in Kentucky. Three people drowned in the Rolling Fork River near New Hope when a car drove into the water. Two people escaped but were hospitalized with hypothermia.

"Water was out of the banks, considerably up onto the roadway area. They ran their vehicle into the water. Two of the folks were exiting the vehicle as the swift water started pushing the vehicle downstream. The other three occupants of the vehicle were unable to exit," said Joe Prewitt, with Nelson County Emergency Management.

In the other crash, a rider on an ATV overturned into a creek near Carrollton and was trapped underneath.

The Kentucky Emergency Management reported a fifth death because of flood waters, in Ballard County, but did not provide specifics.

Authorities did not release the identities of the victims.

Several flood warnings remained in effect Sunday along some Kentucky rivers and streams.

    Two deaths occurred in the Mississippi counties of Coahoma and Jasper, where severe weather damaged homes and knocked down trees, according to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

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    The eighth fatality came from a traffic accident near Kansas City, said Chris Redline of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

    "We also had to close a lot of roads in southeast Missouri because of flooding," Redline said.

    Flooding, extreme cold and unseasonable warmth covered other parts of the country. To make sense of it all, let us take you on a North American tour.

    Southeast: Thunderstorms, tornadoes and torrential downpours

    Heavy rain, damaging winds and lightning continued. These storms were forecast to spread, bringing downpours to Georgia, South Carolina and up the East Coast into Monday.

    While cooler, the weather is expected to be much quieter and drier Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

    On Saturday night, the National Weather Service said a tornado was likely to blame for damage in central Mississippi, including four semi-trucks overturned and five houses heavily damaged.

    The main trigger for the severe weather is the above-average temperatures farther north.

    Midwest: Lake-effect snow

    Sara Hadley sent CNN iReport photographs Sunday of the aftermath of a storm in Lansing, Michigan.

    "It didn't start off too bad until we lost power last night. At that point we knew it was getting bad. Last time we had ice like this was 1998," she wrote.

    Her images showed branches and pine cones covered by thin layers of ice.

    Moderate to heavy lake-enhanced snow was expected for far western and north central upper Michigan into Monday night.

    Central Plains: Slammed with ice and snow

    Temperatures will be 15 to 25 degrees colder than normal Monday with a gradual moderation into Christmas Day.

    In Kansas and southeast Nebraska, snowfalls will total 3 to 6 inches. And those cold temps will keep folks shivering.

    Whitney Eichinger of Southwest Airlines said the company is trying to offer customers options.

    "We are allowing customers to rebook their trip with no penalty through (Sunday)," she said. "That has more to do with traveling to the airport, not flight cancellations."

    Mid-Atlantic/Northeast: Weirdly warm

    If there is one present being handed out on as winter begins, it is the well above-average temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic.

    New York City broke a record high Sunday, according to Ashley Sears, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

    "(The record) was previously 63 degrees in 1998. And we are currently sitting at 70 degrees, which we've been at for the past couple of hours," she said.

    Farther north, however, the situation has been less cozy. In Maine and across New Hampshire, Vermont and into northern New York, winter warnings -- including ice storm warnings and freezing rain -- were in effect.

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a winter ice emergency and activated the state's emergency operations center.

    The National Weather Service in Buffalo said up to an inch of ice accumulation is expected, and areas near the St. Lawrence and Black Rivers could see even more.

    Canada: Unusually cold

    Toronto Mayor Rob Ford described the winter weather Sunday as one of the worst storms in the city's history.

    He said he hopes that power will be restored to the more than 250,000 customers currently without it by Christmas Day.

    Toronto Police Sgt. Jeff Zammit said it has been colder than normal during December, and that freezing rain and fallen trees have brought down many power lines.

    "It truly is a catastrophic ice storm that we've had here, probably one of the worst we've ever had," Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines told CTV Network.

    For customers with service, the company asked that they "share the power" and consider asking neighbors inside.

    The city has also opened warming stations.