Winter weather brought ice to a wide swath of the United States, leaving more than 250,000 customers without power in Texas on Wednesday morning. Thousands of flights were canceled or delayed Tuesday and Wednesday, while icy conditions on the roads brought traffic to a standstill and caused numerous crashes.
At least eight deaths in Texas are blamed on the storm.
As the ice storm advanced eastward on Tuesday, watches and warnings stretched from the western heel of Texas to West Virginia. Several rounds of mixed precipitation — including freezing rain and sleet — were in store for many areas through Wednesday, meaning some regions could be hit multiple times, the federal Weather Prediction Center warned.
Numerous auto collisions were reported in Austin, Texas, with at least one fatality, according to the Austin Fire Department. In Travis County, Texas, which includes Austin, police and sheriff’s deputies have been responding to new crashes about every three minutes since 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Austin-Travis County Traffic Report Page.
More than 1,400 flights scheduled for Wednesday nationwide had already been canceled by Wednesday morning, according to the tracking service FlightAware. The list for cancelations included both major airports in Dallas and airports in Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee.
On Tuesday, more than 900 flights to or from the major U.S. airport hub Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and more than 250 to or from Dallas Love Field were canceled or delayed, according to FlightAware.
Power outages in Texas grew from about 6,000 customers on Tuesday to 251,000 Wednesday morning, as tracked by the site poweroutage.us . About 125,000 of those affected were customers of Austin Power, CBS Austin reported .
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that the outages were due to factors such as ice on power lines or downed trees, and not the performance of the Texas power grid that buckled for days during a deadly winter storm in 2021 .
“The power grid, itself, is functioning very efficiently as we speak right now, and there is not anticipated to be any challenge to the power grid in the state of Texas,” Abbott said . “It’s important to remember that local outages are not a reason to say there is a problem with the power grid.”
In Texas, a sheriff’s deputy who stopped to help the driver of an 18-wheeler that went off an icy highway on Tuesday was hit by a second truck that pinned him beneath one of its tires, according to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. About 45 minutes after the crash on State Highway 130, the deputy was freed from the wreckage and taken to a hospital, where he was in surgery Tuesday afternoon, officials said. The deputy is expected to survive, officials said.
In another wreck, a Texas state trooper was hospitalized with serious injuries after being struck by a driver who lost control of their vehicle, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“The roadways are very hazardous right now. We cannot overemphasize that,” Abbott said.
In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency Tuesday because of the ice storm. In her declaration, Sanders cited the “likelihood of numerous downed power lines” and said road conditions have created a backlog of deliveries by commercial drivers.
One of the main thoroughfares through Arkansas — Interstate 40 — was ice-coated and “extremely hazardous” in the Forrest City area on Tuesday, according to the city’s fire department. Pictures posted on social media showed the crumpled cab of a semi-trailer.
The department responded to two bad wrecks and about 15 other crashes Tuesday morning, Division Chief Jeremy Sharp said by telephone. In many of the crashes, the drivers pick up speed on the highway but run into trouble when they reach a bridge, he said.
“They hit the ice and they start wrecking,” he said.
“When I-40 shuts down like that, that can be hours of waiting,” said John Gadberry, who lives in Colt, Arkansas, not far from the highway. “I-40 is usually one of the first things that freezes over due to its slight elevation.”
By late Tuesday morning, I-40 was cleared and traffic had resumed, the Arkansas Department of Transportation announced. The interstate connects Little Rock, Arkansas, to Memphis, Tennessee.
The storm began Monday as part of an expected “several rounds” of wintry precipitation through Wednesday across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.
“Generally light to moderate freezing rain resulting in some pretty significant ice amounts,” Chenard said.
“We’re expecting ice accumulations potentially a quarter inch or higher as far south as Austin, Texas, up to Dallas over to Little Rock, Arkansas, towards Memphis, Tennessee, and even getting close to Nashville, Tennessee,” according to Chenard.
The flight disruptions follow Southwest’s meltdown in December that began with a winter storm but continued after most other airlines had recovered. Southwest canceled about 16,700 flights over the last 10 days of the year, and the U.S. Transportation Department is investigating.
The weather service has issued a winter storm warning for a large swath of Texas and parts of southeastern Oklahoma and an ice storm warning across the midsection of Arkansas into western Tennessee.
A winter weather advisory is in place in much of the remainder of Arkansas and Tennessee and into much of Kentucky, West Virginia and southern parts of Indiana and Ohio.
- Snow Storm