Winter storm pounds US; firefighter killed in Michigan; NWS San Diego issues first-ever blizzard warning: Updates

Friday updates: Read the latest weather news here

A massive winter storm with heavy snow and powerful winds was slamming the Northern Plains and Midwest Thursday on its cross-country trek, killing one person in Michigan and triggering major power outages, flight cancellations and road closures.

Nearly 900,000 customers were without power in five states by Thursday evening, including over 797,000 in Michigan, according to That's down from nearly a million homes and businesses earlier in the day.

In the Northeast, a mix of sleet and freezing rain was falling east of Syracuse, New York, to Boston earlier Thursday, Accuweather reported. The East Coast can expect the storm to make its way in that direction later in the week.

For the first time in 34 years, the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Southern California mountains through Saturday. Some coastal areas could see 10-foot waves through Thursday, forecasters said.

“Nearly the entire population of CA will be able to see snow from some vantage point later this week if they look in the right direction (i.e., toward the highest hills in vicinity),” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted.

The storm is one of a series that have been pounding the country in the past week.

More than 24 million people across more than two dozen states were under blizzard, winter storm, wind chill and freeze warnings Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. Another 49 million people faced winter weather, wind chill and frost advisories.

The northern U.S. has been hit hard this week. Schools and offices were shut down, as well as the Minnesota Legislature. About 90 churches in western Michigan canceled Ash Wednesday services, according to WZZM-TV.

Meanwhile, National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Bann said some mid-Atlantic and Southeastern cities set new high temperature marks by several degrees.

WHAT IS THUNDERSNOW? Explaining how a thunderstorm can produce snow

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Winter storm: What to expect

Here’s a look at the wintry conditions expected to impact the U.S. Thursday into the weekend, according to the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center:

  • Extremely cold air will chill parts of the West, the northern High Plains and the upper Midwest through Thursday. These locations could experience temperatures as low as 30 to 40 degrees below average. Temperatures in many spots across the northern High Plains could dip well below zero.

  • Heavy snow and some ice were expected to hit parts of the Great Lakes and Northeast, resulting in possible snowfall amounts as high as 18 inches in some areas.

  • Strong winds were expected to accompany heavy snow hitting the northern Plains and Great Lakes, gusting as high as 40 to 50 mph.

  • Heavy rainfall, in addition to heavy snow, is expected in California, including the southern parts of the state. On Thursday and Friday, National Weather Service meteorologists say the heavy snowfall threatening the West will “become more centered over California as a new storm system developing just off the West Coast drops south and begins to edge into the Southwest for the end of the week.”

  • Freezing rain is also expected in parts of the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast, according to forecasters. Localized ice could accumulate to a quarter of an inch or greater, particularly in portions of western and central Massachusetts. Areas experiencing the heaviest freezing rain may have to contend with treacherous travel and scattered power outages.

Michigan firefighter killed

A volunteer firefighter with the Paw Paw Fire Department in southern Michigan died Wednesday after he was electrocuted by a downed power line amid a rare freezing rain and ice storm.

The fire department said Ethan Quillen was a "husband, father, son, friend, Marine, and dedicated firefighter" who was "selfless, kind, loving, hard working, and so much more."

Consumers Energy said in its own statement it will investigate and that the company was "saddened to learn of this firefighter's passing" and that "extreme weather events like this are difficult for numerous reasons, but few are more important than the risk many first responders and line workers take with their lives in service of their community."

READ THE LATEST ON MICHIGAN STORM: Rare Michigan ice storm leaves 1 dead, knocks out power to 700K customers

-Frank Witsil, the Detroit Free Press

NWS San Diego issues first-ever blizzard warning

For the first time, the National Weather Service office in San Diego issued a blizzard warning for the San Bernardino County Mountains through Saturday afternoon, the weather service tweeted Thursday.

"Travel will be very difficult to impossible due to the extremely heavy snow and extremely high winds expected," meteorologists warned via Twitter.

Between 3 to 5 feet of snow were forecasted for elevations above 5,000 feet above sea level, with sustained winds of up to 35 mph and gusts potentially reaching 60 mph, according to the weather service. Fog and heavy snow could reduce visibility to less than a quarter of a mile.

Resident: 'A big storm' for Minneapolis

Snowfall in northern Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota was expected to wind down later Thursday and move east, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.

In the Twin Cities region of Minnesota, where winter storm and blizzard warnings expired by midday, weather service meteorologists recorded 12.1 inches of snow at their office in Chanhassen, west of the Minneapolis airport, where 10.1 inches of snow fell by Thursday morning.

Sarah Walter, a lawyer and Southern California native living in Minneapolis for 25 years, said she saw a foot of snow in her area – “which is less than they were fearing,” she told USA TODAY.

“It may not be historic, but it's still a big storm,” Walter said. “(We’re getting) a lot of wind today, so there's a lot of drifting because there's just a lot of snow.”

Subzero temps chill Wyoming, Colorado

In Denver, sunrise came as the temperature hit minus 7 degrees Thursday, and many schools were either delayed or canceled. At Denver International Airport, dozens of flights were canceled or delayed because of the cold on the ground or weather conditions elsewhere.

In Cheyenne, Wyoming, the temperature dropped to minus 11, and large portions of Interstate 80 – the major east-west route across the state – were closed until conditions improved.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol urged drivers to stay home as search-and-rescue teams aided a number of people stranded in their vehicles across the state.

Brian Hedberg clears snow from the alleyway to try and get his car through a plowed snow bank on Feb. 23, 2023, in Minneapolis, Minn. Dangerous winter weather is ravaging the nation from California through the northern Plains.
Brian Hedberg clears snow from the alleyway to try and get his car through a plowed snow bank on Feb. 23, 2023, in Minneapolis, Minn. Dangerous winter weather is ravaging the nation from California through the northern Plains.

“While we do have mostly blue skies overhead, the roads are still covered in snow at many locations," said Doug McGee, a Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesperson.

The approximately 400 miles of I-80 across Wyoming have an average elevation of 6,000 feet above sea level, and the winds that power hundreds of electrical turbines oftentimes pile snow across the road faster than crews can plow.

McGee said continuing low temperatures and high winds made it hard for crews to clear the drifts. Drivers who have illegally entered closed roads have complicated their efforts.

“The roads closed for a reason," he said. "When people do that, our crew then has to stop plowing and turn to conducting rescue operations, further delaying reopening."

– Trevor Hughes

Plains, Midwest under blizzard warning

Winds will gust up to 45 mph, making travel “impossible,” the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, warned.

The weather service cautioned that the frigid wind chills as low as 30 degrees below zero can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes.

WHAT DEFINES A BLIZZARD?: Heavy snow and high winds expected to sweep across country.

People make their way through a snow-covered street in the Grand Park neighborhood of Portland, Ore., Thursday Feb. 23, 2023. The city experienced its second snowiest day on record. (AP Photo/Drew Callister)
People make their way through a snow-covered street in the Grand Park neighborhood of Portland, Ore., Thursday Feb. 23, 2023. The city experienced its second snowiest day on record. (AP Photo/Drew Callister)

Winter storm brings a foot of snow to parts of New York, New England

Parts of New York and New England could see up to 12 inches of snow into Thursday as the major winter storm that crossed the country this week moves east.

A winter storm warning is in effect in parts of New York and Vermont until 1 p.m. on Thursday, and total snow accumulations of up to 12 inches are in the forecast. The snow will taper off "to a light wintry mix on Thursday,” according to the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont.

A warning is also in effect until 7 p.m. on Thursday in parts of Maine and New Hampshire. The storm could bring up to 9 inches of snow, as well as sleet accumulations of up to one-tenth of an inch.

In parts of the northeast, snow and ice will create dangerous travel conditions into Friday, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.  

Portland sees second snowiest day on record

Residents of Portland, Oregon, were in for a surprise when a forecast of only a couple of inches turned into the second snowiest day on record.

Portland got nearly 11 inches Wednesday, stalling traffic during the evening commute and stranding some drivers on freeways for hours. Some spent the night in their cars or abandoned them.

Colby Neuman, a weather service meteorologist in Portland, said forecasters would review the storm to figure out why models were so wrong. Neuman said the forecast changed rapidly within hours as the storm approached.

The weather service had predicted a 20% chance of more than 2 inches of snow, and just a 5% probability of between 6 and 8 inches. The weather service said it would plan to review its work.

The Multnomah County medical examiner’s office said it was investigating a suspected hypothermia death related to the storm.

Amid concern for the thousands of people who live on Portland’s streets, city and county officials said they would open three overnight shelters in addition to three others Thursday evening. The sites would be able to sleep about 700 people.

Search teams unable to recover bodies in Cascade Mountains

High winds and heavy snow prevented search teams from reaching the bodies of three climbers killed over the weekend in an avalanche in Washington's Cascade Mountains.

The avalanche on Sunday had struck a group of six climbers who were ascending a steep, snow-packed gulley on the 8,705-foot Colchuck Peak, about 70 miles east of Seattle, said Chelan County sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Reinfeld on Tuesday.

The victims were Seong Cho, a 54-year-old male Korean citizen from West Hartford, Connecticut; Jeannie Lee, a 60-year-old woman from Bayside, New York; and Yun Park, a 66-year-old man from Palisades Park, New Jersey, the sheriff's office confirmed.

Winter storm warning in California

Winter storm warnings were in effect Thursday and into Friday along swaths of California, from the Ventura County Mountains and the Los Angeles County Mountains to northern parts of the state near Oregon.

Weather service forecasters say communities along Interstate 5, which connects Southern California to the central valley region, have received around 2 to 4 inches of snowfall in the last 24 hours. 

WEATHER UPDATES: Southern California braces for first blizzard warning in LA area since 1989

"What's unusual about this storm is the depth of cold air that's going to move into Southern California and how low some of these snow levels will get, especially as we move into Friday and Saturday," Pydynowski said.

  • Accumulating snow could fall in elevations as low as 2,000 feet on average from Thursday to Saturday, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.  

  • In areas above 4,000 feet in elevation, 1 to 2 feet of snow is possible.

Winter storm tracker

National Weather Radar 

Contributing: The Associated Press; Orlando Mayorquin, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Winter storm pounds US with ice, snow and power outages: Updates