CENTURY, Fla. (AP) — A treacherous mix of falling snow, sleet and freezing rain turned Tuesday morning commutes to misery for many returning from a long holiday weekend in the Northeast, a day after suspected twisters tore through parts of the South.
At least three deaths were reported on slick roads, all in Virginia.
In the West, California and Arizona braced for more record warm temperatures after basking in the high 80s and low 90s on Monday. Millions along the East Coast, meanwhile, were still shivering from the deep freeze brought on by the storm.
In Washington, the federal government was opening three hours late after freezing rain coated the capital city in ice. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which sets leave policies for 300,000 federal workers, said government employees also could opt for unscheduled leave or telework.
Freezing rain fell in the Washington area overnight after several inches of snow fell Monday. Many schools in the Mid-Atlantic region were opening late or not at all.
The mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain made driving dicey around the Northeast. Separate tractor-trailer crashes within miles of each other shut the Thruway in upstate New York near Albany for a time Tuesday morning. Authorities later reopened most lanes.
Buffalo’s public works department called in extra crews to remove fresh overnight snowfall. The National Weather Service said accumulations could range from 2 to 4 inches in the Hudson Valley to as much as 18 inches between Rochester and Buffalo.
On Monday, suspected tornados tied to the vast storm system turned several homes to rubble in the northwest corner of Florida’s Panhandle and in Mississippi. Authorities say more than a dozen homes were destroyed in both states. There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries from the reported tornadoes, though witnesses said one 94-year-old woman had to be pulled from debris in Florida.
One of three apparent twisters swept through Century, a rural town in the northwest Florida Panhandle, destroying or significantly damaging about 10 homes, Escambia County spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka said.
Donald Pugh was at home in Century when the funnel tore through his neighborhood of small wood-frame houses and mobile homes, downing trees. Pugh told The Associated Press that he and other neighbors used a chain saw to free the 94-year-old woman, stuck under a twisted metal door and other debris of her home.
“It took us quite a while,” he said. “She was telling us where she was and that she was OK,” Pugh added.
The woman was taken to a hospital as a precaution, authorities said.
In Mississippi, windows were blown out of cars and two gymnasiums and a library were damaged Monday at a K-12 school in Wesson where children were in attendance when heavy thunderstorms and a possible tornado crossed at least 19 counties. No students were hurt, authorities said, adding at least 15 buildings and homes were reported damaged or destroyed.
In Virginia, State Police said they responded to at least three fatal crashes on icy roads, a fraction of nearly 100 crashes reported statewide.
Police say a Virginia trooper and two other people were on the median of Route 288 in Chesterfield County near Richmond when they were hit by a vehicle Monday evening, throwing one person into a nearby firefighter. Police said that person was pronounced dead and the trooper and the second person were taken to a hospital with serious injuries.
In Virginia’s Fauquier County, police said 63-year-old Steven Gibbs of Linden was killed Monday morning when his SUV hit a snow plow. In Loudoun County, police said, a woman was killed Monday night when her car rear-ended a backhoe.
In several Northeastern cities — including New York, Boston and Hartford, Connecticut — temperatures had dipped Sunday below zero, falling to minus 40 on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
In the West, Arizona and California were baking in the heat: It was 89 on Monday in downtown Los Angeles, breaking 1977’s record of 88. The National Weather Service forecast that Phoenix would hit highs of 89 Tuesday and 92 Wednesday, above the previous records of 84 and 88 degrees, respectively.
In Phoenix, Arizona, the fire department issued safety tips for hot weather — such as not leaving children or pets unattended in vehicles, staying hydrated, and scheduling outdoor activities during the cooler morning and evening hours.