Winter storm lingers in southern US, but relief is forecast
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A mess of ice, sleet and snow lingered across much of the southern U.S. as thousands in Texas endured freezing temperatures with no power, including many in the state capital of Austin, but a warming trend was forecast to bring relief from the deadly storm Thursday.
However, an Arctic cold front is expected to move from Canada into the northern Plains and Upper Midwest and sweep into the Northeast by Friday, bringing snow and bitter cold with windchills of more than minus 50 (minus 45 Celsius) in northern New England, according to the National Weather Service.
More than 400,000 customers in Texas lacked power early Thursday, according to PowerOutage, a website tracking utility reports.
Frustration mounted in Austin, where more than 150,000 residents remained without power early Thursday, more than 24 hours after their electricity and heat went out. For many, it was the second time in three years that a February freeze caused prolonged outages and uncertainty over when the lights would come back on.
Unlike the 2021 blackouts in Texas, when hundreds of people died after the state’s grid was pushed to the brink of total failure because of a lack of generation, the wide outages in Austin this time were largely the result of frozen equipment and trees falling on power lines. The city’s utility warned that all power may not be restored until Friday.
Pablo Vegas, who heads the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, vowed that the state’s electrical grid and natural gas supply would be reliable and that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the February 2021 blackouts.
School systems in the Dallas and Austin area, plus many in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee, closed Thursday as snow, sleet and freezing rain continued to push through.
More than 700 flights scheduled for Thursday were canceled, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware.com. That followed thousands of cancellations and delays since frigid weather set in Monday.
Watches and warnings about wintry conditions stretched from the West Texas border with Mexico through Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana and into western Tennessee and northern Mississippi.
The treacherous driving conditions resulted in at least nine deaths on slick roads since Monday, including seven in Texas and one each in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged people not to drive.
The latest fatality occurred late Wednesday on Interstate 40 in western Oklahoma when a semitrailer overturned and vehicles behind it, including several other rigs, “cascaded” in separate collisions on the icy road, according to Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Foster.
Eastbound lanes were closed for more than five hours following the crashes, Foster said.
Public transportation in Dallas is also experiencing “major delays,” according to a statement from Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The system serves about 220,000 riders daily in 13 cities within the Dallas metro with a network of streetcars, light rail, buses and vans, according to its website.