Winter storm brings snow to Florida, closes southern airports

By Sara Shayanian and Danielle Haynes  |  Updated Jan. 3, 2018 at 6:56 PM
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Jan. 3 (UPI) -- A strong winter storm brought a rare snowfall to northern Florida and shut down airports in other parts of the south Wednesday.

Officials issued storm warnings for parts of Florida and Georgia, the eastern Carolinas, southeast Virginia and the cities of Savannah, Ga.; Charleston and Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Wilmington, N.C.; and Norfolk, Va.

In Florida, it marked the first winter storm warning for Tallahassee in four years. The National Weather Service reported snow fell in the city Wednesday morning.

In Tallahassee, numerous vehicle crashes were reported and officials closed off about 55 miles of Interstate 10 in northern Florida because of ice.

"We're seeing some flurries," Ricardo Humphreys, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, told the Tallahassee Democrat. "There's been freezing rain throughout the area, and that's been the main issue with road closures and whatnot."

"The last time we had measurable snow was 1989," Humphreys said. "That's pretty rare. "So we'll see after all this is done whether get got any measurable snow anywhere."

In Gainesville, Fla., the National Weather Service reported that a mix of snow, freezing rain and sleet was possible for about 7 hours on Wednesday beginning at 3 a.m. Temperatures are expected to dip to 33 degrees. Snow was reported as far south as Lake City, Fla., in Columbia County between Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

Farther north, parts of Savannah and coastal Georgia saw up to 3 inches of snow, which closed Savannah Hilton Head International Airport. The closure canceled 78 inbound and outbound flights, Lori Lynah, director of marketing for the airport, told the Island Packet.

She said the airport didn't have supplies on hand to clear the runways because of infrequent winter weather there. She said it's unclear when the airport would reopen.

Charleston International Airport, which shares runways with Joint Base Charleston, also closed Wednesday. The airport said the Air Force would determine when conditions were safe enough to reopen.

S.C. Electric & Gas reported more than 7,500 power outages throughout the state due to the icy conditions.

Forecasters expect freezing rain and sleet to end as snow in parts of northern Florida and southern Georgia by mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Snow, sleet and freezing rain may increase in eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia by Wednesday afternoon.

Forecasters predict 1 to 4 inches of snow are in Georgia, while parts of eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia may see locally higher amounts that top 6 inches.

Parts of South Carolina could see 5 to 6 inches of snow.

Due to weather conditions, some airlines are allowing passengers to rebook flights without paying a cancellation fee --including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue and United Airlines as near-blizzard conditions are expected to blast through the eastern United States.

Coastal cities farther north were bracing for the winter wallop later in the day. Boston closed all public schools Thursday and ordered all vehicles off the street by 7 a.m. The NWS issued a blizzard warning for multiple coastal communities in the region and forecast snow accumulation of 1 inch to 3 inches per hour throughout the day Thursday.

"We're asking everyone in Boston to do their part ... we're asking you to stay off the roads and keep your kids in your house," Mayor Martin J. Walsh said.

American Airlines suspended all departures from Boston on Thursday.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced all public schools were canceled Thursday.

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