East Coast Storms Ground Planes, Cut Power to Thousands

Hundreds of flights were canceled and almost 300,000 customers lost power as severe thunderstorms accompanied by rain, hail and possibly derecho winds swept into the Northeast.

A tornado reported in Elmira, New York, tore down trees, ripped roofs from buildings and trapped people in vehicles, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. A tornado watch was issued for parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The storms broke out along a cold front that stretched from New York across the U.S. to northern Texas, said Corey Mead, a meteorologist at the center.

Some 300,000 homes and businesses were without power in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio as of 7 p.m. local time, according to company websites. Hail the size of quarters fell in parts of Pennsylvania, said AccuWeather Inc.

At least 842 flights in the U.S. were canceled as of 6:45 p.m. LaGuardia Airport in New York was the hardest-hit with 162 grounded, said FlightAware, a tracking company based in Houston.

A flash flood watch was posted for parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) were possible, the weather service said.

Forecasters were watching to determine if the storm met the criteria for a derecho, Mead said.

Wind Damage

“At this point it is fair to say it is going to probably be a derecho,” Mead said. “There is definitely going to be a continuous pattern of wind damage across New York, Pennsylvania and southern New England.”

A derecho struck the mid-Atlantic last month, leaving 4.3 million people without power from New Jersey to North Carolina as it unleashed winds of as much as 91 miles (146 kilometers) per hour, as powerful as a Category 1 hurricane. Twenty-four deaths were linked to the storm and its aftermath, according to the Associated Press.

Even if a derecho doesn’t form, the storms have already left snapped trees, damaged buildings and downed power lines from Ohio to New York, according to the storm center.

A derecho is defined as an event that has wind gusts of at least 58 mph and leaves a swath of damage for a minimum of 240 miles, according to the center’s website.

A University of Iowa science professor, Gustavus Hinrichs, came up with the term in a paper published in a meteorological journal in 1888, according to the storm center. The word means “straight ahead” in Spanish and Hinrichs used it to contrast the windstorms with tornadoes that have twisting winds.

Earlier Storms

A less-intense wave of thunderstorms earlier today snarled air traffic along the East Coast from Boston to Philadelphia. Delays of more than three hours were reported at LaGuardia and in Newark, New Jersey, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Delays of 90 minutes or more have lasted all day at LaGuardia, Newark and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, the FAA said.

FirstEnergy Corp., based in Akron, Ohio, said about 116,700 customers in Pennsylvania and 13,400 customers in Ohio had lost electricity by 7 p.m. American Electric Power Co., based in Columbus, Ohio, said more than 51,000 customers were blacked out, while NYSEG, a unit of Iberdrola SA, had about 31,100 without service in New York, according to the utility’s website.

The storm threat prompted New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to cancel events in Rochester and Syracuse and to go to New York City to help manage preparations, according to a statement from his office.

Consolidated Edison Inc., which provides electricity to most of the New York City area, struck a deal with its largest union today to end a two-week lockout and allow personnel to prepare for the storm, Cuomo said. The union’s 8,500 members still must vote to approve the contract.

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