Winter Storm Diego Slams Southeastern U.S., Cancels Flights

(Bloomberg) -- Winter Storm Diego struck the Southeastern region of the U.S. Saturday night, ravaging travel plans and wiping power from hundreds of thousands of homes. The storm is expected to persist throughout Sunday, with flight cancellations extending into Monday.

More than 1,300 flights in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport have been canceled this weekend, according to Flight Aware, an airline tracking service. American Airlines Group Inc., which uses Charlotte as a hub, accounted for a third of that total and had called off 1,100 flights due to the storm as of Sunday morning. American said Sunday it has already canceled 320 flights for Monday.

American, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have stated on their websites that customers affected by the storm can make a one-time change to their travel plans without a fee. Eighty percent of all flights in Charlotte have been scratched for Sunday as the region is expected to be digging out from as much as a foot of snow. That’s more than many parts of the state get in a year.

“There has been between six and 12 inches in the main swath of the mountains,” said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We’re going to see deterioration of conditions throughout the winter storm area through Sunday -- we’re just adding to the amount that’s on the ground and clinging to the trees and power lines.”

No Power

The biggest snowfalls -- probably totaling more than 12 inches -- are expected near the Appalachian Mountains. Aside from the major dump in North Carolina and Virginia, the storm is affecting areas in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky, Burke said.

In addition to making travel nearly impossible, Diego has left more than 436,000 customers without power in the Southeast, according to poweroutage.us. Nearly 245,000 of those customers live in North Carolina. “It’s going to be difficult for crews to get out and work in those conditions,” Burke said. “I’m sure those power outages in some cases will be pretty lengthy.”

Diego made its way across the U.S. this week, bringing wintry precipitation to California and Texas, where Lubbock had more than 10 inches of snow.

More storms could be coming. There are increasing signs that an El Nino -- when the Pacific warms and produces a winter that’s wetter than usual -- has formed, according to Alex Lamers, another meteorologist at the National Weather Service.

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