Storms knock out power elsewhere; in Northern San Joaquin Valley, it's all sun, no rain

December 25, 2013 

The ice that snapped utility poles and knocked out power to more than half a million people in the United States and Canada was stubbornly hanging on Wednesday as frigid temperatures cloaked a region from the Great Lakes to New England. Locally, conditions are on the other end of the weather spectrum, as above-normal temperatures continue with no rain in sight.

Utility crews from Maine to Michigan and into Canada made progress getting the lights back on Wednesday and people were slowly trickling out of shelters to spend Christmas Day at their finally warm homes.

But the cold means ice isn’t melting off lines and limbs, while wind gusts of more than 20 mph could bring down more branches. Two to 6 inches of snow in places today will hamper line crews trying to get to remote spots.

“We’ve had two beautiful, sunny days in Maine and the ice isn’t going anyplace,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency. “They’re very concerned about more weight coming down on trees that are already compromised by ice.”

Ashley Walter was still hunkered down with her husband, Jacob, and their month-old daughter, Leah, at a shelter set up in a school in Litchfield, Maine, where the temperature dropped to 4 degrees overnight and wasn’t expected to get much higher than 15 on Wednesday.

The family lost power Saturday, got it back temporarily and then lost it again Sunday and has been without it since. Ashley, 27, and Leah stay warm at the shelter while Jacob makes frequent trips home to check on their cats and water pipes.

Despite the challenge of being forced out of the house, especially at Christmas, the family is staying positive. Ashley made sure they celebrated the holiday.

“It’s definitely kind of strange but we’re hanging in there,” she said Wednesday. “We did our Christmas together last night. I packed little stockings and gave them to my husband, sisters and my daughter.”

Trudy Lamoreau was supervising the emergency shelter where about 25 people stayed Tuesday night. Lamoreau, who’s also the town manager, said generators kept the shelter warm until the school got power back late Tuesday night. Maine still had about 60,000 people without power, down from a high of 106,000.

“People are doing quite well considering the circumstances,” she said.

In the Northern San Joaquin Valley, stagnant air and dry conditions continue, as temperatures remain above normal for this time of year. Even the Tule fog that generally visits the region this time of year “has been and will remain virtually absent this season,” the National Weather Service said in its forecast.

Highs are expected to remain in the mid-60s, with lows in the 30s, through the weekend. A few clouds are expected to move in on Friday and Saturday, but they will bring little if any rain, forecasters said.

The ice storm that struck the East Coast and Midwest last weekend was one of the worst to hit during a Christmas week and repair crews were working around the clock to restore service. States that weren’t hit were sending crews to help.

In Michigan, about 156,000 people were still without power Wednesday afternoon, down from more than 500,000 at the storm’s peak. Snow is falling across most of the state and temperatures are in the teens and 20s.

So far, authorities blame the storm for 25 deaths – 15 in the United States and 10 in Canada, including five who apparently died from carbon monoxide poisoning. In Michigan, police say a 73-year-old woman died Christmas Eve when she ran a stoplight that was out of service because of the ice storm.

In Canada, about 160,000 customers were without power Wednesday. There were 72,000 customers without power in Toronto, down from 300,000 at the height of the outages, and Mayor Rob Ford said some may not have power restored until the weekend.

Back at the shelter in Maine, volunteers have tried to make it homey. For Christmas Day, they cooked up a ham dinner with potatoes, vegetables, bread and pie for dessert.

“They have been amazing,” Walter said, adding that the volunteers set up a separate room for her and Leah so they wouldn’t disturb others when the infant woke during the night. “They just try to make everything better for us.”

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