AUSTIN, Texas – Texans in more than 340,000 homes and businesses braced for near-freezing temperatures without power Wednesday and more than 2,300 flights were canceled amid an unrelenting blast of treacherous, icy conditions and brutal cold that has left at least six dead.
The winter weather system, now in its third day, has swept from Minnesota deep into Texas. Wrecks on slippery roads have been reported in Texas, Arkansas and other states across the region all week.
“We really cannot emphasize this enough: DO NOT BE ON THE ROADS,” the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth tweeted Wednesday. “They are going to virtually be impassable through today and tonight.”
School systems across Arkansas, along with those in Dallas, Austin, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee, cancelled classes for Thursday.
Power outages were expected to last 12 to 24 hours in the Texas state capital as ice brought down power lines and tree limbs, Austin Energy warned. The city’s community-owned electric utility said its crews were facing icy roads and frozen equipment, which made it “difficult to provide estimated restoration times.”
Parts of Texas were colder than Alaska early in the day. AccuWeather reported a “real feel” temperature of 28 degrees in Dallas on Wednesday morning – 3 degrees warmer than in Anchorage, Alaska.
►The NBA postponed Wednesday night’s game between the Detroit Pistons and the visiting Washington Wizards because the Pistons couldn’t fly back home after their loss Monday night in Dallas against the Mavericks.
►In Memphis, Tennessee, services for Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by police officers during a traffic stop last month, were delayed more than two hours “due to weather and travel delays.”
►A warm front moving north from the Gulf Coast will bring heavy showers and possibly scattered flash flooding to portions of the Deep South and Southeast on Thursday, the weather service said.
►A winter storm warning was in effect until Thursday in east central, southeast and southern Oklahoma.
►LaGuardia Airport in New York experienced a ground stop for the second morning in a row because of wintry conditions and later reported average delays of more than 40 minutes.
WHAT IS WIND CHILL? Understanding the wind chill index and how it’s calculated
Wind chill of 35 degrees below zero in Northern Minnesota
On Minnesota’s annual Winter Walk and Winter Walk to School Day, residents of some areas of northern Minnesota woke up to temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees, the National Weather Service office in Duluth said. Light winds meant 35 below in some areas where a wind chill advisory was in effect.
The Winter Walk events encourage everyone to travel by foot for at least 15 minutes, and “don’t let the cold scare you off,” the state Transportation Department says on its website. It adds that celebrations can start small or include an entire school.
“After all, this is Minnesota, the land of ice fishing, hockey, cross-country skiing, fat biking, and sledding – why wouldn’t we throw a Walk (and Bike) to School Day party in the middle of the winter?” the website says, adding, “Don’t hibernate, participate!”
Dallas airports have hundreds of cancellations
More than 1,300 flights into and out of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport – three-quarters of the number scheduled – were canceled by early Wednesday afternoon, FlightAware reported. The airport tweeted that “all traveling to DFW Airport should consider road conditions and allow extra time to travel to the airport. Please approach entry & departure plazas with extra caution.”
Nearly 400 flights were canceled into and out of Dallas Love Field. Officials warned travelers to allow extra time for shuttle services that were experiencing delays.
The flight struggles come almost exactly one year after a winter storm forced cancellation of more than 2,000 flights at area airports.
Memphis closes schools, struggles with ice
Schools in Memphis, Tennessee, canceled classes for the second day in a row Wednesday, and the Memphis Police Department implemented its inclement weather crash policy – officers won’t respond unless the crash is serious, and drivers must file a police report within five days. Most city offices were closed, and Memphis International Airport was reporting average delays of up to 45 minutes.
“Good news!” the weather service office in Memphis tweeted. “The third and FINAL round of freezing rain and/or sleet will start this afternoon. Temps should rise above freezing tomorrow mid morning & precip will change back over to rain.”
Winter storm warning continues in parts of Texas
An ice storm warning is in effect until Thursday morning in parts of north and central Texas as mostly freezing rain and sleet were expected in the area, the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said. The weather service warned that “significant” icing was expected, and accumulations could reach up to half an inch.
Power outages and tree damage were likely because of ice, and officials warned that drivers should keep an extra flashlight, food and water in their vehicles.
“The state of Texas is working around the clock to keep Texans safe and warm over the course of this severe winter weather and flooding event,” Gov. Greg Abbott said. “Texans are urged to remain weather-aware and stay off the roads if possible.”
Six die in Texas
Emergency responders have been rushing to hundreds of highway crashes across Texas since Monday. At least six people have died on slick Texas roads, including three people in a crash Tuesday near Brownfield, about 40 miles southwest of Lubbock.
Authorities also said one person in Austin was killed in a predawn pileup Tuesday; a 45-year-old man died Monday night after his SUV slid into a highway guardrail and rolled down an embankment near Dallas; and a 49-year-old woman died after the vehicle she was driving struck a tree near Eldorado.
Two law officers in the state were seriously injured, authorities said. A Travis County sheriff’s deputy who stopped to help the driver of an 18-wheeler that went off an icy highway Tuesday was struck by a second truck that pinned him beneath one of its tires, the sheriff’s office said. In another wreck, a Texas state trooper was hospitalized with serious injuries after being struck by a driver who lost control of the vehicle, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? Sleet vs. freezing rain vs. hail
Austin struggles with outages; more ice coming
About a half of the Texas power outages were in the Austin area Wednesday afternoon. Though Austin temperatures could reach 33 degrees for a few hours, forecasters warned the wind chill will remain in the mid-20s.
By mid-afternoon, downed power lines forced the closure of a section of Highway 35 in both directions, the state Department of Transportation said.
The Austin region could see an additional 0.1 to 0.25 inches of ice Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. There is a chance the ice could turn to rain during the afternoon moving into the evening, though forecasters expect the freezing rain will continue again during the evening and into early Thursday morning.
Ice storm warnings stretch to Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee
An ice storm warning was also in effect until Thursday in parts of east Arkansas, north Mississippi and west Tennessee. Sleet accumulations of up to one-half inch are possible.
Officials warned that travel conditions could continue to be difficult in the coming days. Interstate 40 in parts of Arkansas was coated in ice Tuesday.
Artic blast heads for the Northeast
Intense arctic air will target the Northeast later this week, AccuWeather reported. “A shift of the polar vortex will be at the heart of the brief cold blast,” meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.
Temperatures in some New England states could drop by 40 to 50 degrees in the 24 hours before Friday night, but they’re expected to bounce back by Sunday. Boston may dip to 10 below zero by Saturday morning. And in parts of Maine, temperatures could drop to 28 degrees below zero over the weekend.
WHAT IS THE POLAR VORTEX? In-depth look at how it can affect winter weather in the US.
WHAT IS LAKE EFFECT SNOW?Here’s how it happens and how much snow it can bring with it.
California mountain snowpack at highest Feb. 1 level in four decades
The nine atmospheric rivers that dropped 32 trillion gallons of precipitation on California from late December through mid-January built the state’s snowpack to its highest level at the start of February in four decades.
Will that be enough to pull the Golden State out of its three-plus-year drought? The next two months will decide. For now, water officials are grateful for the impressive accumulation of mountain snow, which makes up about one-third of California’s water supply.
The snowpack’s water content was measured Wednesday at 205% of average for the date and 128% of normal for April 1, when the snow is typically at its peak, according to survey conducted by the California Department of Water Resources. Those figures are ahead of the output in 1982-83, the wettest season on record, but most of California remains in moderate to severe drought.
“Our snowpack is off to an incredible start, and it’s exactly what California needs to really help break from our ongoing drought,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of the department’s snow surveys and water supply forecasting unit. “However, for every day that it doesn’t rain or snow, we gradually return to drier conditions.”
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Contributing: The Associated Press