Deadly winter storm heads east, might affect Thanksgiving

A fierce storm blamed for deaths in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas is heading east, promising to bring sleet, snow and freezing rain to much of the country over the next several days and into the Thanksgiving holiday.

The storm, which was over Southern California on Saturday, is caused by a large cyclone that's moving very slowly east and expected to hit the Texas panhandle by Monday afternoon. On the way, however, the storm will collide with an unusually chilly air mass east of the Rocky Mountains that could cause dangerous winter weather in the South and Southwest.

"The air mass that resides over the central United States, and the Southern [states] too, is a bit colder than normal," Greg Carbin, a National Weather Service meteorologist, told the Los Angeles Times. "That's why we have the winter weather problem."


Three deaths were reported in storms that battered parts of California.

Two people in Oakland died Thursday in storm-related incidents; one man was apparently electrocuted when he was hit by a falling power line and tree branches, and a motorist died after crashing into a tree while  trying to avoid debris. A woman was killed in Northern California when a tree fell on her car. 

The Associated Press reported Saturday that five more people died because of the storm: one in New Mexico, one in Arizona and three in Texas.

New Mexico is expected to bear the brunt of the storm Sunday, with snowfall predicted across the state, ranging from a few inches in the valleys to a few feet in the mountain regions, Chuck Jones, senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, told The Times.

He explained that though storms aren't unusual for this time of year, it's rare to see nearly every region in the state with a winter storm warning. Though widespread, the snowfall should diminish by Sunday night, Jones  said.

Amber Hluchan, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Midland, Texas, told The Times that the West Texas region will see freezing rain, sleet and maybe even snow Saturday night and into Sunday morning. That should taper off by Sunday afternoon, she said. 

By the time it passes and moves through the Texas panhandle Monday, the storm will have brought "nearly four days of freezing precipitation" Hluchan said. "That's not normal for this area."

The storm's slow speed is unusual and makes it difficult to predict its movements and effects, she said. 

Dennis Cain, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth, said that though the area expects sleet through Monday and snow into Tuesday morning, he doubts that flights out of Dallas will have to be canceled.

Sleet, which is frozen when it hits a surface, doesn't stick to the wings of planes so they can usually still fly. 

Kevin Brown, a National Weather Service forecaster in Norman, Okla., told The Times that western and southwestern Oklahoma will see sleet and snow through early Monday. He said that this kind of weather is more typical to January or February, but not unheard of.

As the storm passes through the South, the weather system is expected to precipitate another storm in the Gulf of Mexico later in the week, which will then move up and through the East Coast around Thanksgiving, bringing wintry weather with it, Carbin said. 

"There could be a storm somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard," Carbin said. "But that's Wednesday into Thursday, and a lot can change between now and then." 


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