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What to Know After Severe Storms Hit Vast Areas of the U.S.

Strong winds and heavy rain left hundreds of thousands of utility customers in the eastern United States without power on Wednesday. Roads and buildings across a wide region were flooded and battered by the storm, with some rivers and streams still rising.

At least four weather-related deaths were reported in the Southeast on Tuesday, and an apparent tornado tore through homes in businesses around Panama City Beach, Fla. In one Alabama town, hail the size of baseballs fell.

The bad weather was part of a series of storms that swept across the country this week, drenching parts of the Northeast while blizzard conditions walloped the Pacific Northwest and strong winds ripped through the South. Another storm — followed by Arctic temperatures — is expected on Friday.

Though the storm itself had moved beyond the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions by Wednesday afternoon, runoff from the rain continued to pose a risk of flooding.

More than 100 river and tidal gauges in the eastern part of the country reported water levels that were at flood stage, and many of the rivers will remain high through the end of the week, when more rain could fall.

Heavy rainfall in Rhode Island led to road closures, and about 35 people were evacuated from homes in the town of West Warwick. In Connecticut, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning in New London County after a partial dam break on the Yantic River, and the city of Norwich ordered residents living near the river to evacuate.

In New Jersey, the Passaic River, which flooded last month, is not expected to crest until early Thursday evening. Mayor Andre Sayegh of Paterson, the state’s third-largest city, declared a state of emergency starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Rescue boats will be on standby, shelters have been opened, and trucks have been loaded with barricades to close city streets.

Flooding closed several streets Tuesday night near the harbor in downtown Annapolis, the capital of Maryland. “Definitely the worst flooding and the highest winds that I’ve seen,” Mayor Gavin Buckley said on Wednesday morning, adding, “It’s going to take a while to mop this up.”

Hundreds of thousands of people from Florida to Vermont woke without power on Wednesday morning, according to Poweroutage.us, which tracks utility companies. The states where the most people were affected were Pennsylvania and New York. Since the morning, service in many places has been improving.

Many school districts on the East Coast and in the Midwest either canceled classes on Tuesday and Wednesday or planned to open late — or both — because of the weather.

Air traffic on the Eastern Seaboard was snarled by the storms. FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, reported that more than 1,200 flights were canceled nationwide on Wednesday, after 2,200 were canceled on Tuesday, including New York, Chicago and Washington.

At one point on Tuesday, more than 22 million people from Florida to Virginia were under tornado watches. There were reports of at least 10 tornadoes across the South by Tuesday afternoon, according to the Storm Prediction Center at the National Weather Service, though those remained unconfirmed until officials could survey the damage.

An apparent tornado tore through Bamberg, S.C., on Tuesday afternoon, a county spokeswoman said. The storm left a mess on the main street, where officials were still assessing the damage on Wednesday morning. No injuries were reported.

Powerful winds on Tuesday — possibly including a tornado — also caused serious damage around Panama City Beach, Fla. Roofs were ripped away, leaving debris strewed on the streets, and fences were toppled. Five people went to the hospital with injuries. “It looks very much like Hurricane Michael did, which means tremendous damage,” said Valerie Sale, a spokeswoman for Bay County, referring to a 2018 storm.

Another winter storm is expected on Friday — similar in strength and scope to Tuesday’s bad weather — followed by a cold Arctic air mass across the United States. The storm will begin to take shape across the Plains on Thursday and then rapidly strengthen over a 12-hour period on Friday.

Widespread damaging winds are possible across the eastern United States, including tornado-producing storms in the South. And the rain will increase flooding risks on rivers up and down the East Coast.

In the Midwest and Upper Plains, forecasters are becoming more confident that colder air could combine with blustery winds to create blizzard conditions. The storm’s exact track, still uncertain, will determine which cities will get snow. The forecast for Chicago is especially unclear.

The cold air mass will push south to the Gulf Coast early next week, with temperatures there dropping below freezing in some locations. And there’s a chance for yet another storm affecting the East Coast on Monday and Tuesday.

Judson Jones, Hilary Howard and Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.



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