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THE SITUATION ROOM

Syria's Deadly Stockpile; New Subpoenas in Christie Investigation; Airport Hell; Extreme Weather Blasts Eastern U.S.; Airport Gridlock for Travelers; California Farmers Hurting from Drought

Aired February 14, 2014 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly stockpile: a disturbing update on the chemical weapons Syria was supposed to give up. How many is the regime still holding on to?

And airport hell, desperate passengers getting nowhere fast as airlines scramble to make up for thousands of canceled flights. Will more bad weather make matters even worse?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, this is an investigation that could derail a White House run and reshape the political landscape. And now we're learning new information about a slew of subpoenas, as New Jersey lawmakers probe Governor Chris Christie's bridge scandal. They are looking at allegations that top Christie appointees orchestrated traffic jams around the George Washington Bridge last year in Fort Lee to punish the town's mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection.

Chris Frates of CNN Investigations has been digging into this for us.

What are you finding out, Chris?

CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, lawmakers have issued 18 new subpoenas widening their investigation. And after we pored through dozens of these pages, it appears they have some questions about a testimony of a top Christie official.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRATES (voice-over): Even as Chris Christie raised money for the GOP and fought the record snowfall in his state, tweeting about snowmen and school closings, he's not been able to fend off an avalanche of new subpoenas in the widening probe of the Bridgegate scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the G.W. Bridge situation impact your ability to execute on those priorities for the state?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Actually, I'm shocked you brought that up. (LAUGHTER)

FRATES: CNN has obtained copies of 18 subpoenas issued by the legislative committee investigating the scandal, documents which appear to widen the scope of the probe. Lawmakers are trying to uncover whether Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, was lying when he testified in November that the lanes were closed for a traffic study.

The subpoena asked for -- quote -- "any drafts or earlier versions of the statement read by William E. Baroni during his testimony." The subpoenas also seek details about meetings between Baroni and Port Authority lawyers.

JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NEW JERSEY STATE ASSEMBLYMAN: The documents that have been provided to the committee have long shown that was just really a cover story trying to hide the lane closure. What's important to the committee is to know why such a great amount of time was used to come up with that story.

FRATES: Democrats have also asked for material unrelated to the lane closures, including toll increases and a controversial tunnel project. And some Republicans on the committee say the investigation is spinning out of control.

AMY HANDLIN (R), NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLY: That's why I called it a charade. How can you call a process bipartisan when information appears to be doled out based on party affiliations and when the debate is taking place in the media?

FRATES: Documents related to the investigation have already started coming in, but some key players are still refusing to cooperate with the subpoenas, setting up what may become a constitutional showdown.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRATES: Now, Brianna, there's also been questions about how the closures affected traffic safety. CNN reviewed government records and found that there were 61 car accidents on or near the George Washington Bridge the week of those now infamous lane closures.

The number of accidents is about average, but we spoke with multiple people involved in wrecks who all say the traffic nightmare was directly to blame. There's still plenty of people angry out there -- Brianna.

BALDWIN: Chris Frates, thank you so much for that.

Let's get more now with CNN political commentator and "New Yorker" Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza, as well as Alec MacGillis of "The New Republic."

First to you, Ryan. What do you make of these new subpoena details? RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the most interesting thing is that they're expanding this investigation into this ARC project, this ARC tunnel project. And they're looking for a pattern here, right?

So the traffic study was the cover story for the traffic jam in Fort Lee, right? So now they're saying, wait a second, Chris Christie, you killed this ARC project and you said the reason was because of a cost overrun. We now want to know what the justification for that cost overrun was. So, it's a complicated, inside, a little bit of an inside baseball New Jersey thing, but they're looking for a pattern...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Yes.

LIZZA: ... of the Christie administration making decisions and then using cover stories.

KEILAR: If there's a template for other instances of this happening?

LIZZA: Exactly. That's what struck me in the new subpoenas.

KEILAR: So, Alec, you have a fascinating article in "The New Republic" titled "Chris Christie's Entire Career Wreaks."

I want to read one of the final lines in the piece from it. You said, "When Christie got cozy with Democratic bosses, people only saw a man willing to work across the aisle. When he bullied his opponents, they only saw a truth-teller. It was one of the most effective optical illusions in American politics, until it wasn't."

You lay out this case of Chris Christie sort of being, I guess, transactional in a way that if people are familiar with New Jersey politics, there's a reputation for that. You lay out case after case where he's kind of almost building an empire to sort of bolster himself.

ALEC MACGILLIS, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Right.

KEILAR: How was he so effective doing this, and to your point, where you say people just missed that he was doing it? Why do you think so?

MACGILLIS: Well, they missed it and he was so effective at it because all along he was kind of running against it. He was setting himself up against this kind of image New Jersey as a corrupt place.

As a prosecutor, which was the job that made him, this was sort of how he set himself up. All along, though, he was kind of using that same machine, using some of these same power brokers to advance himself. It was brilliant. It was really kind of Machiavellian.

We were looking at him sort of on one side of the coin, and in fact he was kind of working the other side of the coin at the same time.

KEILAR: It's a pretty fascinating read. And I know that you have read it, Ryan.

LIZZA: Yes, absolutely.

KEILAR: But if you go through this and you wonder sometimes, OK, maybe that doesn't kind of pass the sniff test, right, but maybe this is just New Jersey politics. What do you make of it? Is it just transactionalism?

LIZZA: I think that is the great question is how much of Christie's rise and the sort of deals he made have to do with Chris Christie as just who he is, as this Machiavellian character, as the way you portrayed him in the piece, and how much of it is just structural and the way if you want to do business in Jersey, if you want to get from point A, Chris Christie, this guy who is president of his -- of class in college, and he's an aspiring from day one and he wants to be governor, is the only way to get to be governor in New Jersey is you have to make a lot of deals on the way up that inevitably are your undoing once you get there.

I remember in the Corzine era, there was an anonymous Democratic aide, this quote always stuck with me, who said, being New Jersey governor is a sucker's bet, because whatever you did to get there will destroy you in the end. That was the question I had in reading the piece. Is it Jersey or it is Christie?

MACGILLIS: Right. Well, no, it's definitely both.

And I think that the -- I think we'd be less likely to raise questions about it now if he hadn't been so righteous in declaring himself above that all. And that's really how he got to where he was declaring himself as the reformer who was meant to take this on and clean it all up.

In fact, what we now know is that he was sort of selectively cleaning it up, clearing out a lot of the smaller fry kind of corrupt officials while leaving in place some really big power brokers who were very, very useful to him.

KEILAR: And who, as you describe in multiple cases, may have been pretty questionable when he was U.S. attorney of New Jersey. This is part of your article, that he wasn't going after certain people that maybe some thought that he should.

MACGILLIS: Exactly. There are a couple very prime examples. The biggest one is this fellow George Norcross, who is a hugely powerful, influential power broker in South Jersey, has been there for a long time.

And Chris Christie in 2006 had the chance to bring -- press a case against him, declared that he was not going to, but not only did that, put out a six-page letter explaining that the reason he was not going after George Norcross was that the state prosecutors who had started the case had bungled the case. He even suggested that they may have been shielding him, which was the sort of again really Machiavellian move where he protected himself against any notion that he was protecting George Norcross by accusing these other folks of doing the same.

George Norcross has now become probably the key person in Christie's world in New Jersey.

KEILAR: And before we go, I want to put up a photo that is depicting Governor Christie as Tony Soprano. It's equating him really to a killer mobster. Is that really a fair assessment, I mean, Ryan, when you look at this?

LIZZA: You know, Alec's editor is a good friend of mine who chose that picture. And I actually called him before I came over here and I said, I'm going to throw you under the bus on CNN right now.

KEILAR: Yes?

LIZZA: You know, I would -- if I were Frank Foer, the editor of the magazine, I don't think I would have gone with this, to be totally honest.

I think it detracts from Alec's piece, which was excellent. And I just -- look, Chris Christie is an Italian American who is a little overweight from North Jersey. It is inevitable that he's going to be compared to Tony Soprano, right? I mean, that's just a given.

But, you know, as you pointed out, this is a mobster and a killer. In your piece, it was a tough piece, but I don't think you accused him of killing anyone.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: No. And yours -- your piece was very detailed, very well-researched. And I'm sorry to put you on the spot, but I kind of wanted to there.

What do you think about the picture?

MACGILLIS: I see where Ryan's coming from. And it's a fair question to ask.

I would defend it on these terms. First of all, the piece itself, as Ryan noted, does not traffic in any kind of insinuation of Chris Christie as somehow mobster, organized crime, any kind of even ethnic characterization. He is half-Italian, half-Sicilian.

The -- I think it's possibly justified, the art, because for me it evokes not the mob. It evokes New Jersey. Tony Soprano is about as iconic a Jersey cultural figure as it gets, along with maybe Springsteen.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: Bon Jovi. MACGILLIS: It also -- but it's also really for me even more evokes the sort of pathos of the current moment for Chris Christie, the fact that you had this guy who just a couple months ago was the putative front-runner for 2016, riding high off this huge election.

Now just mere weeks later, he's in this really, really tough spot. For me, that image of him coming down the driveway from the big McMansion to get the paper in a bathrobe, that captures the moment for Chris Christie.

LIZZA: You should have ended the piece with just a black line, like the end of the last episode of "The Sopranos."

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Some "Don't Stop Believing" lyrics or something like that.

All right, Ryan Lizza, Alec MacGillis, thanks to both of you for being with us today.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Now, still ahead, tons of chemical weapons still in Syria's hands. How is the regime flouting the deal that helped it avert a U.S. strike?

Plus, eye-popping new video of a giant sinkhole that swallowed eight rare Corvettes. We will be showing you how they got these amazing images.

But, first, this "Impact Your World."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The country of Congo has been plagued by decades of war and violence. For former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo, that violence hit home in a very personal way.

DIKEMBE MUTOMBO, FORMER NBA PLAYER: There was some shooting in an area and my dad was trying to get my mom to the hospital. And they was told that they cannot get on the road. That they have to go back inside.

CUOMO: About an hour later, Mutombo's mother passed away in her living room. Mutombo says too many Africans have died because they were denied or didn't have access to medical care, something he wants to change. With funds raised through his Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, he opened a hospital in the Congo's capital city. The hospital bears his mother's name, the person he says taught him the importance of helping others.

MUTOMBO: For everything she did for the children in our family, the value of love and giving back and sharing.

CUOMO: Mutombo's hospital has treated more than 30,000 patients including these premature triplets who would have died without his help.

MUTOMBO: The babies are three years old now. Every time I come, they run up to me, they hug me. That's the impact that we are making.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: More than 100,000 people killed, millions forced to flee as refugees and Syria's civil war is growing even more brutal as peace talks edge closer to collapse.

We're now learning the regime still has many of the chemical weapons it was supposed to give up.

Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is following developments for us.

It sounds like there is no good news, that everything is dire here.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: There are no -- the violence is getting worse, the peace process is stumbling. These last 24 hours have been particularly devastating for the peace process.

It had been difficult for days to even get the Syrian opposition and Syrian government at the same table. Now one of the key backers of the talks, Russia, long a supporter of Bashar al-Assad, is refusing to accept one of the key bases of these negotiations. At the same time, the violence and the suffering in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry have become grotesque.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): This is the sound of a country in chaos, tens of thousands of Syrians desperately trying to escape the besieged city of Homs, epicenter of their country's two-year-long civil war, many now starving, forced to eat grass to survive.

And these are U.S.-led Syria peace talks near collapse following Russia's stunning refusal for now to even discuss a political transition, a key foundation of the negotiations.

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry said President Obama has asked his advisers to present new policy options.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's gotten worse, dramatically worse. The situation demands that the civilized world stand up and fight for those people who are the victims day-to-day of violence. This is grotesque.

SCIUTTO: Grotesque. But there is a growing chorus who place the blame firmly on U.S. policy in Syria.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Syria today. SCIUTTO: Senator John McCain recently called out the president for failing to stem the bloodshed.

MCCAIN: Where is President Obama, who has said he refuses to accept that brutal tyrants can slaughter their people with impunity while the most powerful nation in the history of the world looks on and stands by?

SCIUTTO: As peace talks stumble, so has the landmark agreement to remove Syria's chemical weapons. It is now alarmingly behind schedule.

All of Syria's chemical weapons were supposed to be out of the country a week ago. CNN has learned that, as of now, Syria has removed only 11 percent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: The State Department notes that 5,000 Syrians have died since the peace talks began. And State Department officials accuse the Syrian government of stepping up aerial bombing since then and now using starvation as a weapon.

U.S. officials insist the only solution to all this is political, but that's really an impossible task, Brianna, without Russia's cooperation. And you really wonder what leverage the U.S. has with the Russians to get them back to the table, with the Syrians to follow the terms of this chemical weapons deal. You know, they say that the military option is still on the table. It really isn't as a practical matter at this point.

You see -- you wonder whether that leverage is. It's a big question.

KEILAR: What are the prospects for getting the chemical weapons out, if they're that far behind? Are they still getting some out and things are headed in the right direction or is it looking bad?

SCIUTTO: It's in the right direction in that it's more today than it was a month ago, but it's well behind schedule. they were supposed to have 100 percent out of the country as of February 5. We now have 11 percent out. So, the idea of having it all out and all destroyed by June just really doesn't look possible at this point.

KEILAR: Probably not going to happen. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Now we're learning surprising details, new details now about how former NSA contractor Edward Snowden accessed some of the most highly classified government secrets that he famously leaked to the world. According to an NSA memo, it involves Snowden tricking a co-worker.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

What happened, Barbara? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Brianna, this is really fascinating. There is now a memo from the NSA to Congress looking at the damage and how it might have happened.

How did Snowden carry this thing off? Well, it looks like he did trick a co-worker, another civilian employee at the NSA, into giving him his password. This memo details this and says -- and I want to quote part of it. It says that the employee was tricked into putting this password into Snowden's computer and then -- quote -- "Mr. Snowden was able to capture the password, allowing him even greater access to classified information."

The memo says the civilian employee had no idea what Snowden was going to do, but, nonetheless, it is a serious violation of NSA security protocols to give up this kind of password information. The employee has left the NSA. The NSA says it's informed the Justice Department about all of this. No word if the Justice Department is going to proceed against this person.

And maybe most tantalizing, the memo says there is also an active-duty military member and a contractor involved in all of this, but they don't say exactly what's going to happen next to those two people. But, remember, Snowden said he didn't trick anybody into it. It looks like maybe he did.

KEILAR: Well, let me ask you this, Barbara. When they say he captured the password, does that mean that it wasn't just a matter of one time this co-worker putting the password into perhaps Snowden's computer, but he was actually able to capture the password and have it for future use?

STARR: Yes, it looks -- we don't have a lot of detail other than what this memo specifically says from the NSA to Congress, but it looks like that is clearly the implication of what happened here.

The employee enters the password, doesn't realize what Snowden is going to do with it. Snowden captures it. That's the operative word here. And the belief is that he probably then used it to get additional classified information.

KEILAR: Fascinating. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Now it was one year ago today when Olympic star Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. New photos given exclusively to CNN show the couple seemingly happy and in love not long before her death. Pistorius broke his silence today, calling Reeva's death a -- quote -- "devastating accident."

The Blade Runner, as he's known for his prosthetic legs, will stand trial early next month for murder. He denies the charge.

And check out this amazing new video. You are climbing inside the massive sinkhole that swallowed eight classic Corvettes. These cars were featured at the center of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, when this sinkhole formed and caused substantial damage to the cars, as you can imagine. The museum has actually reopened, but experts say it will take up to six days to pull the cars out.

George Zimmerman is breaking his silence next week, finally providing answers to the many questions surrounding the night that he killed Trayvon Martin and the lengthy trial that followed. He will be speaking to CNN's own Chris Cuomo in an exclusive interview. Be sure to watch that on "NEW DAY" Tuesday morning from 6:00 to 9:00 Eastern.

And Pope Francis has a very special Valentine's Day message. Don't be afraid to get married. Francis was addressing an enormous crowd in St. Peter's Square, including thousands of young engaged couples. Three couples were able to ask him direct questions, if you can imagine that, before they all received a blessing. And Francis instructed them to build their love together and let it grow, and also, this is a pretty good one, to ask each other for forgiveness every day.

Now ahead, nowhere fast. The fight right now for millions of would-be airline passengers, is more snow about to make things even worse?

Plus, a record number of flight cancellations, and you won't believe how many have been grounded so far this year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Happening now, extreme winter. The dangerous conditions affecting millions of Americans with another blast of snow on the horizon. What you need to know to weather the storm of the decade and also historic gridlock in America's airports.

CROSSFIRE is off tonight so that we can bring you the very latest on the weather and travel across the U.S. I'm Brianna Keilar, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, millions of Americans are struggling to dig out and move on from one of the biggest snow and ice disasters in memory, but another storm is moving toward the East Coast right now, and it's threatening to add to that danger and all the gridlock in the hardest- hit areas.

A blizzard watch now has been issued for the coast of Massachusetts. We're seeing more frustrating cancellations and delays at some of the nation's biggest and busiest airports. This winter has been brutal for air travel with a record number of cancellations, apparently more than we've seen in a quarter century.

CNN's Rosa Flores is standing by at LaGuardia in New York. But first to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She is at Reagan National Airport outside of Washington -- Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, yesterday was the single worst travel day yet this winter. Let me give you the numbers, because it does show you just how extensive all the cancellations and delays have been. In the last 36 hours, there have been over 8,000 cancellations, but that doesn't even include, Brianna, the delays. Let me show you what people here at Reagan National are seeing. This is the board that everyone fears seeing their flight up on. Look at these cancellations and note that these are in the New York area. That's where we're still seeing a lot of the delays.

And a lot of travelers, of course, are frustrated. Many spent the night in the airport last night, and we're meeting a lot of travelers who are trying to get to their plans. One is Arlen Weiner, here with me. She is trying to reunite with their family. They have not had a family reunion in a long time. She's trying to get to Vermont for a ski vacation. Tell me, how has it been?

ARLEN WEINER, TRAVELER: So originally, I was booked on a flight to go to Albany where my parents were going to pick me up, but that flight got canceled. I couldn't get on the phone with anybody. I couldn't find another flight out. The only other option was a flight that had four stops to get to Albany.

So finally, I just decided to book on another airline flying to Boston now where my sister's going to pick me up, and we're going to drive all the way to Vermont from Boston.

SERFATY: How confident are you that you will arrive tonight and be able to enjoy your family vacation?

WEINER: Well, the flight to Boston then got delayed 30 minutes. So still hopeful that I'll be able to get out. But you know, you never know with this weather.

SERFATY: And you tell me one of the most frustrating parts of it is really how you felt you were treated on the phone. Tell me a little bit about your experience.

WEINER: Well, when I got the e-mail that it was canceled, they said call this number to rebook your flight. And I called, and I was on hold for more than 45 minutes while I was at work, trying to figure out all these plans. Still never got through to anybody, which is why I switched to a different airline.

SERFATY: And I think that's what the frustration that many travelers are seeing, Brianna. It's just a bad situation.

KEILAR: That is terrible. Fingers crossed for Arlen. Sunlen Serfaty there at Reagan National Airport.

Let's check in now at LaGuardia Airport in New York where CNN's Rosa Flores is. A lot of delays over the course of the day there, Rosa.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. And those delays have been growing as the day has been progressing.

Now, I want to show you some pictures, because one of our CNN colleagues is actually going from New York to Atlanta, and this is what she saw. Not only gates being changed last minute, but then once she was on the plane, then, of course, delays there, as well.

If we look at the bigger picture, about 1,400 flights delayed around the U.S. And when you talk about delays, hear this. I'm going to give you the latest number: 6,000 delays.

And by far LaGuardia is not the worst airport. You can see on a misery map, which we always like to check on FlightAware.com, ahead of us are two airports. LaGuardia is at No. 3 right now. No. 1 is Charlotte International in North Carolina, and then Chicago O'Hare.

The good news is, of course, as the day progresses, also you know, people are able to get out of the airport, which is also nice because they finally get to their destination.

Delays here at LaGuardia going from an hour to an hour and 30 minutes all day long. Right now we're at an hour and 13 minute delay. So Brianna, if your cupid is airborne at this hour, that is good news because a lot of folks, of course, their flights were canceled or delayed.

KEILAR: Now, they may -- a lot of folks may be spending their Valentine's Day texting each other, wishing each other a happy Valentine's Day.

FLORES: Yes.

KEILAR: Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

Let's bring in now Scott Mayerowitz. He is the airline reporter for the Associated Press.

You know, first, Scott, thanks for being with us.

SCOTT MAYEROWITZ, AIRLINE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: I want you to sort of explain these cancellations, why they're happening. Because it isn't just the weather, right?

MAYEROWITZ: Yes, this is a record number of cancellations out there. And yes, Mother Nature has a large part to play in it. There's been storm after storm after storm, but this is not just weather. The airlines are now proactively canceling flights days in advance. We knew two, three days ago that some night flights wouldn't be taking off today.

And that's a big change in the playbook over the last few years. They say it helps them reset eventually. There's a lot more pain up front, but at the end when the weather does clear, more people get to where they need to go at a better time. You also have fewer people stuck on planes, sitting on the edge of the runway and even those folks who we remember sleeping on cots in airports, it's happened recently but it's not as bad as it was four or five years ago.

KEILAR: So if they're trying to avoid some of those horror stories of people stuck on the tarmac, you know, without any food for hours and hours, you're saying flights are more likely to be canceled. Is this the passenger bill of rights actually backfiring?

MAYEROWITZ: It's a little bit of a backfire there and a little bit of a protection. I think it's a question of would you rather stay at home, get an e-mail from the airline saying. "We're sorry, we can't take you where you need to go today," or would you hope for that chance to get out, maybe sit on the edge of the runway for four or five hours, not have any water, have an airplane toilet that's unfortunately overflowing? Which situation would you rather be in?

So the airlines did warn us that things like this would happen when that bill went through, but I think a lot of passengers, well, it depends on your situation, but a lot of them would not like to be in that horrible situation.

KEILAR: And Scott, let me ask you about this. Because we're hearing a lot of anecdotal evidence of people just having really bad customer service experiences. You probably heard Arlen there at DCA airport. And she was saying, "I called for 45 minutes, couldn't get anyone, had to go with a different airline." In the end, she just gave up.

Our executive producer of this very program, his flight to New York was canceled. He was given sort of a bogus reasoning for why. I mean, is there a customer service problem here, too?

MAYEROWITZ: Part of it is just a lack of information, to be honest. Airlines have these incredible war rooms. It looks a little bit like NASA mission control. And they have everything you'd ever wanted to know about a flight: how many are on time, how many are delayed, how long some of them have been sitting out on the runway.

The problem is not all that information gets to the people who need to know it. So the gate agents, the reservation agents, the people on the phone with customers don't necessarily know that information.

I was flying the other week, and I got text messages from my airline every ten minutes telling me about a delay. I was pushed back 20 minutes, then another 30, then another 10. It took me three phone calls to get someone on the phone who knew what was actually happening with that plane and willing to find that information. And once I learned it was a mechanical problem, I said, "Great, can you find me another seat and get me out of here?"

KEILAR: And I want some news that you can use for our viewers here, because so many of them will have been affected, Scott. If you're impacted by these cancellations, what do you do as a consumer?

MAYEROWITZ: There's not tons you can do. You really are at the mercy of the airlines, but start looking at other options. If you can afford it, look for another airline. If your flight is canceled, you can get a refund.

And then find options that you can present to someone when you finally do get through on the phone. So if that's a strange rerouting through Arizona to get to Seattle, go for it. Try Twitter. The airlines have been backed up with Twitter, but you'd be surprised; it actually does work.

Go ahead, spend the 25 or $50 to get a day pass to an airline lounge. It's actually a good way to get through to some people. The best agents are there.

And then finally try calling that international phone number of the airline. You can find them online. They'll cost you a little bit extra, but you will get through to agents in Europe or Asia who aren't dealing with so many stranded travelers.

KEILAR: I love it, Scott, working around the system. Call the international number. That's fantastic. Scott Mayerowitz with the A.P. Really, really appreciate the tips and also just the breakdown of everything going on. Thank you.

MAYEROWITZ: My pleasure.

KEILAR: Now up next, President Obama is in California at this hour to meet with local farmers who are struggling with a huge problem right now. Drought is killing crops and their livelihoods, and that means that you will pay more at the grocery store.

We're also taking a closer look at extreme weather patterns, from droughts to blizzards and also how they're connected.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: President Obama is in Fresno, California, right now. He's getting a firsthand look at the state's drought crisis. He's announcing millions of dollars in federal aid, but what California really needs is rain and snow and a whole lot of it.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Fresno for us.

Miguel, tell us first off not only what the president is doing there, but tell us about where you're standing right now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm standing on a field that would eventually be tomatoes, Brianna, but there will be no tomatoes this year. This field will lie fallow as well as about a third of the fields throughout the Central Valley here.

The Central Valley actually produces about 90 percent of all processing tomatoes for the entire country. It does about half of all vegetables, fruits and nuts for the entire country, as well. A lot of these fields will lay fallow. That will put a lot of pressure on certain products throughout the year, price pressure on those products.

The president is here to hope to head some of that off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: You have been allocated zero surface water for the next year, yes?

MARK BORBA, FARMER: That's correct.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Mark Borba is making tough choices for the coming year, tougher than he's ever had to make on his 11,000-acre farm.

BORBA: California grows 100 percent of the processing tomatoes in the nation.

MARQUEZ (on camera): And how many tomatoes will you grow this year here?

BORBA: Well, there will be nothing planted.

MARQUEZ: Zero?

BORBA: Zero.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): For first time in history, the California water project, a system of canals and reservoirs providing water to two-thirds of the people here, set its allocation for all of them, city and farm alike, to zero.

(on camera): People are going to feel this at the grocery store eventually, yes?

BORBA: I think so. California is a major supplier of many of the crops that I grow -- lettuce, garlic, onions, processing tomatoes, almonds.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Borba Farm gets its water from 500 miles north, from reservoirs filled with rain and snow. This year, they are way, way below normal.

What water there is -- reserved to maintain endangered specie, salmon runs and bird habitats in this Sacramento River Delta.

BORBA: What's difficult is the inputs that are so essential being subjected to kind of arbitrary governmental regulation.

MARQUEZ: The government, say farmers, has authority to release more water, but with so many federal and state agencies involved, nothing happens. They want President Obama to break the logjam, directing agencies to let the water flow.

BORBA: For anyone to believe that this devastation is only related to a single season of drought would be untrue.

MARQUEZ: Borba is holding on with the water he has, well water or allocations from previous years.

Almond trees must be watered or the loss unrecoverable. He also uses a very expensive yet efficient drip system on the crops he is growing. Still, he expects to cut his hiring this year by a third.

Still, it can get worse if the drought goes on, what is tough this year will become devastating.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, here is the concern for farmers here -- is that the water allocation set for zero is this coming year. They will have to make all of their choices about what they plant in the next 12 months based on that zero allocation if they don't get major, major rain in the next couple of months. That means that banks won't lend to them in the future for building out their farms. That means that businesses in the area we're already hearing about car dealerships and businesses closing throughout the area.

If this doesn't resolve itself soon and water doesn't start to fall from the sky, this could be an absolute disaster for not just farmland in this area but for businesses and whole communities -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And we know they are expecting some snow, some precipitation in the very northern part of California, but it's not getting down there far enough.

Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

You know, from drought and flooding to historic snow and ice. People in the United States and around the world have been experiencing some extreme weather.

And our Brian Todd is out there in the elements here in Washington joining us live to explain this to us.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the snow here wasn't this high, but it sure felt like it. This series of storms has just pounded us here in the mid-Atlantic, slammed the South, the Northeast, but other regions got their own severe weather. And we're now told it was all connected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The refrain is so similar, from Atlanta, which got one city stopping winter storm followed by another.

DIANE BOYLES, DECATUR, GEORGIA RESIDENT: It's been like nothing I've seen. I've lived here almost 30 years.

TODD: To the Great Lakes, where 80 plus percent of the lakes were iced over for the first time in about 20 years, the buildup forming ice caves.

TOM AUCH, ICE CAVE WATER: These were something special. I've never seen anything like it. They're as big as a garage.

TODD: People in so many different regions say they've never seen weather like this winter's. Over the past week, we reached a point where 49 out of 50 states have had snow on the ground. We've seen so- called thunder sleet, captured in this iReport video from a backyard deck in Grand Meadows, New Jersey. But also a punishing drought in California, people in more than a dozen towns in danger of running out of water. Again that refrain --

ALBERT STRAUS, DAIRY FARM: This is the worst year I've ever seen.

TODD: These weather patterns are severe, crazy and connected. This winter, a high pressure ridge of stable air blocked precipitation from coming in from the Pacific Ocean, causing California's drought. Then, it pushed the jet stream further up into Canada than usual, which then led to a deeper trough in the East, pushing further South. That's why those areas got hit by cold weather from Canada.

BILL LAPENTA, NOAA CENTERS FOR ENVIRONMENT PREDICTION: They are associated with that long wave pattern. So, they are connected in that sense.

TODD: The same jet stream swung into Great Britain, causing severe flooding, the wettest January there in two and a half centuries. And yes, that same wave pattern is what's affected the winter Olympics making it almost summertime in Sochi, and it's all slow-moving this year, holding those severe weather patterns longer over all of us.

Why? A mystery.

LAPENTA: That's an area of research we're currently investigating. We don't have a clear-cut answer to that question. And if we did, we would have a much more skillful prediction in the longer time scale say out to one to two months.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another mystery, whether all this is connected to climate change or not. Bill Lapenta of the Centers for Environmental Prediction say they're still trying to crack that code, trying to determine if climate change impacts those jet stream patterns in our crazy weather -- Brian.

KEILAR: And you know, Brian, so many people will say even if it's not backed by scientific evidence at that time, will say we're having such a terrible winter. This means our summer is going to be so warm. Do you think that El Nina, that really warm air blast that comes off the Pacific Ocean, could that force a warmer than usual summer season this year? Any word to that?

TODD: Bill Lapenta says that is possible and they're looking closely at that right now, whether those El Nino patterns are really going to affect the continental U.S. this summer. He says it may be too early to tell at this point.

The way things are going, you can expect some severe weather one way or another.

KEILAR: Yes. And it's become the norm it seems. Brian Todd, thank you so much.

And, ahead, more extreme weather on the way. Find out who's under a blizzard watch for this weekend.

Plus, we'll show you how all this snow is taking a toll on romance this Valentine's Day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We are tracking a new winter storm moving through the Midwest and toward the Northeast, packing another blast of snow. So, let's check in now with our severe weather expert Chad Myers.

What are we expecting from this?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I just expect someone to shout over my head and say it ain't so, Joe.

KEILAR: Exactly.

MYERS: You know?

There's a low coming through close to Louisville right now, making some snow up into Cincinnati. It's going to track across the U.S. later tonight and then up toward Boston.

But when it gets to Boston, it's going to interact with the gulf stream and it's going to bomb out, it's going to absolutely turn into this coastal bomb. And it's going to make snow for Boston, down through the cape, maybe even toward most of Rhode Island and then all of Chatham and the like. That's where it's going.

Let me show you how this develops. It caught everybody off guard because we don't expect them to bomb right here unless you have a big dip in the jet stream.

It still may not work out all that well, but we're not seeing a lot of snow for New York. We're not seeing a lot of snow for any place here that saw a lot of snow, just literally down east in Maine, into Nova Scotia, into Newfoundland and then back here into Boston.

So, big, big snow is possible with blizzard warnings, we could see winds of 50 miles per hour. Here comes the snow -- there you see New York. Some snow in the Poconos, but the biggest snow will be right along the cape. Now, if this thing decides to go a little farther left, we could get more snow. Farther to the west, we'll have to see.

Right now, that doesn't look like the case. This is just kind of a quick hitter. It will be out of there by late Saturday night.

KEILAR: So, Chad, you just heard Brian talking about these weather extremes we've been seeing. What do you make of these?

MYERS: You know, it's all about what we call amplitude. The jet stream all winter has gone farther north than it usually does and farther south than it usually does, for a normal day. Let's talk about a normal day. You get the jet stream to go straight across. Now, we don't get very many normal days because one day is 40, the next day is 20, normal is 30. You never got to 30 degree day, you just add them up all and divide by the number of days.

So, this across zonal flow doesn't happen. What usually happens is a nice little rise here and nice little trough right there. Because it's going farther south, or cold air goes that way, it picks up a low for the Gulf of Mexico, and Gulf of Mexico low does this -- and we get a snowstorm right up the East Coast. We've had more than our fair share, Brianna.

KEILAR: We sure have. And I love your sound effects.

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: Happy --

MYERS: I've had a long week.

KEILAR: I know. I feel you. All right. Happy Valentine's Day, Chad.

MYERS: To you, too.

KEILAR: You know, if you were hoping to receive Valentine's Day flowers today but you didn't, the weather may be to blame or maybe you can use it as an excuse. I don't know.

Sumlin Rapaty (ph) talked to florists worried about deliveries and profits.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REPORTER: In jeopardy, the most profitable day of the year for florists up and down the East Coast.

DAVID SHOVER, VIENNA, VIRGINIA FLORIST: This is actually horrible for florists. With the weather it adds another element that we have to deal with.

REPORTER: One hundred million people have been hit by the storm. Some florists forced to close. Others pushing back orders until after the storm. Industry analysts say nearly 67 million flower orders are at risk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eighty percent of the business for Valentine's Day is accomplished on the 13th and 14th.

REPORTER: FTD, one of the largest online retailers of flowers has stopped taking additional orders in areas affected by the weather. A representative called delivery iffy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Happy Valentine's Day. I'm Brianna Keilar and I'm turning you over to Erin Burnett right now.