One of the first big storms of the season moved across the eastern half of the country Thursday, leaving five people dead and closing schools as the freakish weather brought snow as far south as central Alabama.
As much as 8 inches of snow blanketed the St. Louis area, and forecasters predicted up to 6 inches in parts of southern New England as the storm made its way east. They also predicted northern New Jersey could see 4 to 8 inches of snow before the system exits the region by early Friday, while 2 to 5 inches is expected in the central region of the state. New York City was also blanketed with snow, causing a commuting nightmare for many.
In Virginia, the planned launch early Thursday of an unmanned cargo rocket to the International Space Station had to be rescheduled by one day because of the weather, NASA said. The unmanned Cygnus cargo craft is now scheduled to lift off early Friday from Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore carrying supplies and research materials for the astronauts at the space station.
Washington, D.C. received 1.5 inches of snow, also causing commute delays and school closings.
A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect and will be in place until at least Thursday evening as up to two inches of snow are expected to fall today. The November snowfall average is 0.5 inches. The November snowfall record in the city is 11.5 inches, while averaging 14.5 inches of snow annually. The snowy weather will then head north and west of the city, according to WTOP. According to reports, Thursday’s weather is the first measurable snowfall in November since 1996.
“A lot of people didn’t think the snow would materialize this early in the year. It’s a little bit of a shock value,” Ellen Kamilakis, a Virginia Department of Transportation official, said in a statement. “We ask people to slow down, to add in more time to their commutes, to not underestimate things. Don’t drive like it’s a fall day; drive like this is a winter day.”
Roads in Ohio were clogged by midday Thursday, where officials reported at least one traffic death that was likely weather-related. Indiana State Police also reported a death early Thursday, which they said was caused by the 60-year-old woman driving too fast on a slick road.
In North Carolina, the National Park Service closed the Blue Ridge Parkway to traffic because of dangerous road conditions stemming from snow, sleet and freezing rain. The park service said the closure Thursday includes the so-called “Asheville commuter zone” between mileposts 389 and 375, Asheville Citizen Times reported .
School districts closed or sent students home early across the lower Great Lakes and the Northeast. The University of Connecticut canceled classes starting at 3:30 p.m. or later at its main campus, satellite campuses and law school.
The South, where weather officials said the overnight trace in Alabama missed setting a record for earliest snow by about two weeks, began to clean up.
In Mississippi, a tour bus bound for a casino overturned, killing two people and injuring 44 others. And in the Little Rock, Arkansas, area, three people were killed in separate crashes on icy roads Wednesday night, while Interstate 40 was shut down overnight in the eastern part of the state because of several crashes. The interstate reopened shortly before daybreak Thursday, but officials said traffic was slow-going because some drivers had fallen asleep.
Witnesses told Mississippi investigators the tour bus driver lost control after crossing an icy overpass and the bus rolled over on its driver’s side, coming to rest in median of Interstate 269 in Byhalia around 12:35 p.m., said Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Johnny Poulos.
“All of a sudden the bus started swerving then it spun around two times, hit the rail and then flipped over,” bus passenger Veronica Love told news outlets as she left a hospital after the wreck. “The second spin, it started picking up speed. It was, I mean, what could you do?”
The crash happened about 35 miles southeast of downtown Memphis, Tennessee.
Killed were Betty Russell, 70, and Cynthia Hardin, 61, both of Huntsville, Alabama, said DeSoto County Coroner Joshua Pounders. The injured were taken to Memphis-area hospitals, with at least three listed in serious condition Wednesday evening.
Officials said the group was traveling from Huntsville, Alabama, to gamble at a casino in Mississippi’s Tunica County, about 40 miles to the west.