The massive storm system that pulverized homes, killed three people in Louisiana and brought blizzard conditions to northern states is bringing a new wave of brutal weather starting Thursday.
More than a foot of snow has covered parts of the upper Midwest since Monday, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Next, significant ice and heavy snow will smother parts of the Mid-Atlantic and New England, forecasters said.
Parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York have already seen several inches’ worth of snowflakes, with some areas seeing up to six inches. More than a foot of additional snow could be on the way – while some places with higher elevations could get walloped with up to 2 feet of snow.
“We urge everyone in the impacted regions to avoid unnecessary travel tonight and tomorrow,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement Thursday. “Work from home if possible, stay off the roads, and make sure you and your loved ones remain vigilant.”
At its peak snowfall rate, the storm is expected to dump about one to 2 inches of snow per hour in parts of New York, the governor said, adding power outages were possible over the coming days.
The intense snowfall will spread into interior New England on Friday, with up to a foot expected there.
In Pittsburgh, some areas were under a winter weather advisory as temperatures dropped below freezing after a round of rain, warning that an “additional glazing of ice could occur through midnight,” forecasters said Thursday night.
Freezing rain and snow also covered parts of the Mid-Atlantic Thursday. A quarter inch of ice was reported Thursday morning in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and Maryland, and about a tenth of an inch had built up in parts of Virginia.
The mammoth storm system that plowed across much of the country this week will morph into a nor’easter that will continue spread ice, snow and rain to the Northeast.
Now, as the East Coast hunkers down, tornado survivors in the South are grappling with colossal damage.
‘All of a sudden, everything just blew up’
The same storm system now slamming eastern states left a trail of devastation in Gulf Coast states.
At least 50 tornado reports have been made since Tuesday in Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Texas Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma.
In northern Louisiana, a tornado that moved through the town of Farmerville was rated an EF-3, with 140 mph winds, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado, which moved through Union Parish Tuesday evening, was 500 yards wide at its largest point and was on the ground for over nine miles.
At least 20 people were injured and the tornado demolished parts of an apartment complex and a mobile home park, Farmerville Police Detective Cade Nolan said.
Patsy Andrews was home with her children in Farmerville when she heard “rushing wind like a train” outside, she told CNN affiliate KNOE-TV.
“All of a sudden that wind was so heavy, it broke my back door,” Andrews said. “The lights went off and all we could hear was glass popping everywhere.”
Andrews said she and her daughter crawled into a hallway as glass shattered around them and water leaked through the roof. They ended up hunkering down in their bathroom and praying. Her family survived the storm but was left with a damaged home.
Further south, the weather service also confirmed two EF-2 tornadoes – in preliminary ratings while damage surveys are ongoing – in the New Orleans area. The first tornado impacted areas of St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, including Montz and Killona, where one person was killed. The second affected areas from Marrero to Arabi on the south and east sides of New Orleans.
More than 50 structures were damaged, St. Charles Parish President Matthew Jewell said Thursday, including 45 in Killona and nine in Montz. About 21 of those are no longer livable.
“This happens as the weather’s getting colder and 10 days before Christmas and to a lot of people who are just now recovering from Hurricane Ida,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a Thursday news conference. “That was especially heartbreaking in St. Charles Parish.”
In Jefferson Parish, Trent Theriot ducked inside a small closer as soon as he heard a tornado was headed his way.
“A strong gust of wind came through the front door … the tornado came through the front,” Theriot told CNN’s Nick Valencia. “All of a sudden, everything just blew up.”
When he emerged from the closet, Theriot’s house no longer had a roof and had shifted several feet off its foundation.
But he said he’s fortunate to be alive. “Thank Jesus,” Theriot said, “I’m here for another day.”
‘More devastating than initially expected’
The tornado that shredded much of Gretna, Louisiana, on Wednesday may have damaged up to 5,000 structures, the mayor said.
“Unfortunately, now that the sun is up, it is more devastating than initially expected,” Mayor Belinda Constant said Thursday.
“There are more houses that will probably have to be condemned or just demolished based on such damage,” she said. “It’s about a mile-and-a-half stretch that is completely just inundated with destruction.”
Despite the devastation in Gretna, only three injuries were reported, the mayor said.
“This is not the place where we normally have tornadoes. So our reality of a safe house is not what it is in other parts of the country. But people survived in bathtubs,” she said.
“We’re a resilient people, and this is the type of thing that don’t choose locations.”
Widespread power outages in the cold
From tornadoes in the South to blizzard conditions in the Upper Midwest, more than 100,000 homes, businesses and other electricity customers in the US had no power Thursday night, according to PowerOutage.us.
Most of those outages – more than 80,000 – were in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ferocious winds from blizzard conditions knocked down power lines in the Upper Midwest, and temperatures in some areas without power plunged to near or below freezing.
A mother and child were killed and found far from their home
At least three deaths in Louisiana have been linked to the storm.
Yoshiko A. Smith, 30, and her 8-year-old son, Nikolus Little, were killed Tuesday when a tornado struck Caddo Parish and destroyed their home, local officials said.
Their bodies were found far from where their house once stood, officials said. Autopsies have been ordered for both, the county coronor said.
In St. Charles Parish, a 56-year-old woman died after a tornado hit her home, the Louisiana Department of Health said Wednesday.
And “a number of people” remain in hospitals, the governor said. Some have significant injuries and others are stable, he added.
In Texas, a tornado struck Wise County near Paradise and Decatur on Tuesday, officials said. Video showed homes splintered, with roofs ripped off in Decatur.
And in Wayne, Oklahoma, a tornado damaged homes and barns Tuesday, officials said. No injuries were reported, but homes were flattened or had roofs torn off, according to footage from CNN affiliate KOCO.
Be prepared for severe weather and tornadoes
Given the extensive destruction across the state, “I am amazed that we didn’t have more loss of life in Louisiana, and I’m very thankful for it,” Edwards said Thursday.
Edwards said alert notifications on cell phones were extremely important in giving people proper warning before storms impacted their areas.
But while road crews clear debris and try to restore downed power lines, Edwards urged residents to avoid sightseeing hard-hit areas – such as Iberia Medical Center in New Iberia, a city reportedly hit by a tornado.
In Arabi, Cindy DeLucca Hernandez thought she could beat the storm while driving home with her 16-year-old son after school. Then she found herself facing a tornado.
Hernandez shared video with CNN that showed a tornado blowing through Arabi, kicking up debris and taking out power lines.
“We started seeing debris and we got hit a couple of times by it,” Hernandez said. “That’s when I put the car in reverse.”
Hernandez and her son made it home safely.
But “it was extremely scary,” Hernandez said. “I’ve never ever been through anything like that.”
CNN’s Sara Smart, Taylor Ward, Christina Maxouris, Brandon Miller, Jillian Sykes, Sharif Paget, Joe Sutton, Jason Hanna, Andy Rose, Amanda Musa, Maureen Chowdhury and Dave Hennen contributed to this report.