Thousands lose power as severe thunderstorms sweep north

NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of customers lost power as severe thunderstorms raked the Eastern Seaboard on an atmospheric Halloween night.

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At least 420,000 customers from South Carolina up to Maine and in Ohio were without power just before midnight Thursday, according to outage maps for electric utilities covering 16 states and the District of Columbia. The National Weather Service warned that "severe thunderstorms capable of damaging winds and torrential rainfall will continue to push through" the northeast U.S. overnight, possibly accompanied by downed trees, flooding and more power outages.

Several tornado warnings were issued overnight, including for parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, southeastern Virginia, and eastern North Carolina.

As of 9:30 p.m., Mount Mansfield, Vermont, reported peak wind gusts of 79 mph (127 kph), while peak wind gusts had reached 46 mph (74 kph) down in Cary, North Carolina. News outlets reported widespread flooding across central Pennsylvania.

Colder temperatures and gusty winds in the region were likely for Friday, the National Weather Service said. Storms with heavy rain and strong winds swept the central United States — from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes — on Thursday ahead of an arctic blast that forecasters said could bring near-record cold to the South.

Trees were toppled in the western Carolinas and Tennessee, where news outlets reported at least five people were injured when trees hit vehicles. Tornado watches during the day stretched from South Carolina to northern Pennsylvania.

At least 80,000 homes and businesses were in the dark because of intermittent power outages from Louisiana to West Virginia midday Thursday. A freeze warning reached across more than dozen states, from southwestern Texas into the South and Midwest. Overnight lows could dip into the upper 20s in parts of the Deep South, forecasters said.

A blanket of snow caused travel problems in Illinois, meanwhile, with snow forcing the cancellation of more than 200 flights at Chicago's international airports.

As much as 3 inches (5 centimeters) of snow driven by 50 mph (80 kph) winds was predicted around the Great Lakes.

The storms provided another round of drought relief across the Southeast after weeks of dry weather endangered crops and increased fire risks. But a new federal report showed much of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are still too dry.