Christmas won't be white in much of United States

Fri Dec 23, 2011 3:22pm EST

1 of 7. Jeff Youngblood helps to clear a trees off a friend's house after storms in Rome, Georgia, December 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tami Chappell

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(Reuters) - Snowstorms snarled "Getaway Friday" plans for some holiday travelers, shutting roads in New Mexico and New Hampshire, and colder temperatures ahead renewed hopes for a white Christmas in parts of the Southwest and Northeast.

Much of the rest of the country was expected to celebrate a sunny but brown Christmas, forecasters said.

In Georgia, where powerful storms ripped across the northern part of the state on Thursday, 4,100 customers -- most of them in Rome, Georgia -- were still without power on Friday, according to Georgia Power.

The utility said it hoped to restore service to affected customers by midnight Friday.

A wintry storm dumped as much as a foot of snow on parts of New Hampshire, forcing scattered road closures during the morning rush hour on Friday, said meteorologist Mark Mancuso on Accuweather.com.

Temperatures were expected to drop after a stretch of unseasonable warm weather, increasing the likelihood that the frosting would last through Christmas Sunday.

"I'm glad we're going to have a white Christmas," said Ray Cloutier, 63, proprietor of the Tannery Marketplace commercial building in Littleton, New Hampshire.

"Yesterday the ground was brown and now it's beautiful with wet snow coating the branches of the trees," Cloutier said.

Heavy snow in New Mexico closed highways south of Albuquerque around Las Cruces, and another three inches was expected to fall before evening, forecasters said.

Snow was headed to El Paso, Texas, where an accumulation of more than one inch would put it ahead of Chicago in terms of snowfall so far this winter, said Accuweather meteorologist Mark Miller.

Ski resorts eager to draw crowds to their slopes over the holidays, typically the most lucrative week of the season, welcomed the long-awaited snow and predicted cold temperatures.

At Attitash Mountain Resort in northern New Hampshire, five inches of fresh snow on the ground spelled relief ahead of Christmas week, said Thomas Prindle, director of marketing at the ski resort.

But snow cover elsewhere around the United States two days ahead of Christmas was well below average.

The culprit has been higher-than-normal temperatures this month from Montana to Virginia and drier-than-normal conditions in northern California and the Pacific Northwest, said Victor Murphy with the National Weather Service.

In a typical December, Chicago gets 8.5 inches of snow. So far this month, the city has only received 1.7 inches of snow, the lowest since 2003.

New York City has seen zero snowfall since the freak fall of late October that dumped nearly 3 inches in the city. Reno, Nevada has had no snowfall since November.

"That's the first time that's happened since 1995," Murphy said.

About 92 million Americans -- 30 percent of the total U.S. population -- will travel more than 50 miles this holiday season, 91 percent of them by road, said AAA.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, James Kelleher and Karin Matz; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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