WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Strong winds whipped the U.S. Northeast Saturday, causing power outages throughout the region and brush fires around Washington.
The National Christmas Tree, a 42-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce that had stood on the Ellipse near the White House since it was planted in 1978, was brought down by a gust in the morning, The Washington Post reported. Interstate 95 was closed near Laurel, Md., because of smoke from a 100-acre brush fire, snarling traffic around Washington, police said.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported.
Bill Line, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said the tree was vulnerable because it was not sheltered by other trees in a forest. He told The New York Times the Park Service selected a possible replacement two years ago and expects to transplant it this spring.
The winds, gusting up to 50 mph, knocked down power lines that left at least 18,000 customers without power in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Northern Virginia, the Post said.
Wind warnings remained in effect from North Carolina through New York and Massachusetts to southern Vermont and New Hampshire, the National Weather Service said.
Two storms were heading into the Midwest. Snow was expected to hit the Minneapolis area late Saturday, Accuweather.com reported. Forecasters said the heaviest snow would cover parts of South Dakota, Minnesota and northern Wisconsin. The Minneapolis Star Tribune's meteorologist predicted the worst of the first storm would strike Sunday afternoon with 12-16 inches of snow by Monday accompanied by 25-35 mph winds,
Accuweather.com said a sleet and freezing rain will fall near and north of the Interstate 80 corridor.
The second storm will cross the Midwest Monday, swooping a bit further south to drop snow on Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, northern Missouri, southern Wisconsin and Michigan, and the northern parts of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety said a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 10 near Casa Grande appeared to have been caused by a heavy dust storm that reduced visibility, KNXV-TV in Phoenix reported.
In California, a Pacific storm continued that began Friday continued to dump rain on low-lying areas and feet of snow in the mountains.