SAN FRANCISCO - Emergency crews scrambled Tuesday to restore electricity to about 80,000 customers nationwide that are still in the dark following a series of ice storms that snapped trees and power lines from the Southwest Plains to New England.

The onslaught of freezing rain left little doubt that it is January, putting to rest any notion that the balmy weather in late December could last long.

Power company officials said that most of the 600,000 homes and businesses that lost service over the weekend are back on line, but that some of the harder-hit areas, especially rural regions, will have to wait until Wednesday for relief.

Meanwhile, meteorologists are warning more misery could be in store for parts of Texas, where freezing rain pushed Governor Rick Perry's inauguration ceremony indoors in Austin on Monday, and parts of the Mississippi Valley and Louisiana.

A thick coating of ice knocked out power to at least 6,000 customers in the Dallas area and another 175,000 in neighboring Oklahoma over the weekend.

State police blamed slick roadways for at least 46 deaths across the country, according to the Associated Press.
Missouri was among the hardest-hit regions, crippled by a series of fast-moving fronts that caught the state in a damaging freeze-thaw-freeze cycle.

St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. said that as of Tuesday afternoon, 25,000 of its 2.4 million customers were still without electricity. About 270,000 lost service at various times over the long holiday weekend.

"We've got about 4,000 emergency crews from 16 states helping us to restore power," Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said, some coming from as far away as Georgia.

Gallagher said it was far too early to assess the cost of this latest storm. "We're still trying to add up the cost of the last one," she said, referring to the storm that struck St. Louis on Nov. 30 and left people in the dark well into the first week of December.

Last year was a tough one for Ameren. Hurricane-force winds raked the region in July, knocking out service to nearly 948,000 customers in Missouri and central Illinois. The company said that storm for the bulk of the $31 million in weather-related losses it recorded in the first nine months of the year.
Jackson, Mich.-based CMS Energy reported about 33,000 of its 1.7 million customers were still waiting for electricity Tuesday. While it expects that the majority of these will have service restored by midnight, some residents will have to do without until midnight Wednesday, the company said.

Upstate New York and New England also found themselves in the path of the storm, with at least 150,000 customers pitched into dark in what utilities officials described as concentrated pockets rather than widespread outages.

Public Service New Hampshire, which serves about 75% of the state, reported 22,000 still off line, down from a peak of 38,000 at the peak just before dawn Tuesday.

PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said they had up to 40 emergency teams from out of state helping their own field crews restore power, most from nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut. While they hope to have most customers back on line later Tuesday, he said there is a good possibility some won't have power until Wednesday.

PSNH is part of Connecticut-based Northeast Utilities (NU :
Northeast Utilities which also operates the Connecticut Power & Light Co. and Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

Central Vermont Public Service was also clipped by the ice storm, dropping about 4,200 of is 155,000 customers at one point. Crews have whittled that number down to about 1,700, with most expected to see their power restored by Tuesday or Wednesday in the more remote locales.

"This is a really rural area, heavily forested. There was a lot of ice - a lot of damage," CVPS spokesman Steve Costello said.
Meteorologists are predicting a brief two-three day respite for the eastern half of the country but warn the next blast of winter weather could gather strength over Texas as early as Friday, heading for the Mid-Atlantic states on Saturday, dumping plenty of snow along the way. End of Story