Millions of people in the United States were without power early Tuesday after a deadly winter storm bulldozed its way across the southern and central parts of the country, in places where such perilously frigid conditions tend to arrive just once in a generation.
The massive storm was expected to bring snow, sleet and freezing rain to the Northeast, while the central part of the country braced for several more days of record low temperatures and continued power failures.
At least 4.5 million customers across the country were without electricity early Tuesday, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates live power data from utilities across the country. Most of the outages were in Texas, where power was interrupted Sunday and Monday because of storm damage or in rotating outages ordered by regulators. Many of the interruptions were fairly short, lasting between 15 and 45 minutes, but some customers lost power for hours and remained unsure when it would be back on.
The National Weather Service warned that millions of Americans from coast to coast would remain under some type of weather-related warning or advisory. Here are the forecasts for Tuesday for various parts of the country:
Freezing rain overnight in the New York City area was expected to transition to rain. An ice storm warning was in effect for parts of New York State and New Jersey until the midmorning, with expected accumulations of up to two tenths of an inch, the National Weather Service said. Icy conditions across the region could cause power outages and create hazardous travel conditions for morning commuters.
An ice storm warning was also in effect through 7 a.m. for parts of western Pennsylvania, the Weather Service said. Freezing rain with ice accumulations around a quarter of an inch were expected.
As the weather system reached north, a winter storm warning was in effect for Vermont and northern New York. The storm was forecast to bring up to 10 inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain to those areas.
The weather in most of the Southeast was forecast to be relatively calm, after parts of the region saw snow and ice on Monday, the Weather Service said.
Conditions in Nashville, where the airport reported many canceled flights and delays on Monday, were forecast to improve on Tuesday, with cloudy skies and temperatures reaching into the low 20s.
There were also reports of flurries and light snow in Georgia.
Midwest and Texas
A new storm is expected to develop on Tuesday, bringing up to four inches of snow across portions of Oklahoma, Missouri and the Ohio Valley, according to the Weather Service. Northern parts of Arkansas are expected to receive about 12 inches of snow.
In Texas, freezing rain was expected across the state, with ice accumulations of up to half an inch.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Monday that the state had deployed “maximum resources” to respond to the severe weather and to restore power to communities. Among those resources were National Guard troops, who were called up to conduct welfare checks and to help those in need move to one of the state’s 135 warming centers.
The power disruptions also forced Abilene, Texas, to shut off its three water treatment plants. It was unclear when service to the city of about 125,000 people would be restored, and officials asked residents to conserve electricity to ease the strain on the state’s power grid.
Various winter storm warnings and advisories were in effect for parts of the West.
Areas in Washington State were forecast to receive heavy snow, with accumulations reaching up to 25 inches. A winter storm warning was in effect for most of the day.
Snow totals for the Central and Southern Rockies could range from eight to 12 inches, with one to two feet possible over the highest peaks on Tuesday, the Weather Service said.
In Oregon, where a winter weather advisory was in effect until midday and additional snow accumulations could reach seven inches, at least 200,000 customers were without power by Tuesday morning. “Utility outages are more widespread in the region than ever before, including during the September 2020 wildfires,” Gov. Kate Brown said on Twitter, noting that she had declared a state of emergency on Saturday to mobilize help.
Monday’s storm was notable for its enormous reach and for a particularly perilous element it brought nearly everywhere: ice. It left a treacherous varnish on roads across a midsection of the country, including places where driving on ice is a rarity.
It was also as confounding a storm as it was punishing. Snow blanketed Gulf of Mexico beaches and people went ice sledding on the roads of southern Louisiana. Alabama was warned of brutal ice storms in some places and of possible tornado outbreaks in others. Temperatures were lower in Austin, Texas, than in Anchorage, Alaska.
“It’s snowing in Houston and it’s going to be raining in Pennsylvania,” said Charles Ross, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, Pa. “When does that ever happen?”
Texas was blanketed by one of its largest snowfalls on record and grappling with hundreds of thousands of power outages, flight cancellations and urgent warnings from government leaders and emergency supervisors to stay put and reduce electric consumption. The 8 degrees recorded in Austin was the lowest in 32 years, forecasters said, and the 6.4 inches of snow dumped on the city overnight was reported to be the deepest in 55 years.
Across the country, at least 11 people have died since the storm intensified in the middle of last week; 10 have been killed in car crashes on Kentucky and Texas roads, including a pileup in Fort Worth, attributed to slippery roads, that involved more than 100 vehicles and killed six people. And the authorities in San Antonio said that weather conditions contributed to the death of a 78-year-old man.
The brutal cold in the middle of the country seemed to defy a trend of ever-milder winters, but research suggests that frigid temperatures in Texas could be a consequence of global warming, a phenomenon that has prompted the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe to use the phrase “global weirding.”
There is research suggesting that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the northern latitudes and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex. This allows the cold air to escape to the south, especially when a blast of additional warming strikes the stratosphere and deforms the vortex. The result can be episodes of plunging temperatures, even in places that rarely get nipped by frost.
“For the love of goodness, please stay home,” the Tennessee Highway Patrol said on Twitter on Monday afternoon. “It is very bad out here!!!! Another injury crash. The roads are white!!!!”
It was colder across much of Texas on Monday than it was in Maine.
Houston hit a record low for a Feb. 15 of 17 degrees, breaking the previous record of 18 degrees, set in 1905. In Austin, it was just 8 degrees, breaking the previous record of 20 degrees, set in 1909. Records for the date also fell in San Antonio (9 degrees) and Dallas (7 degrees).
And the frigid blast shows no signs of letting up. The National Weather Service warned that arctic air and dangerous wind chills would remain over the central part of the United States this week, breaking even more records.
The brutal cold, especially in the South, has prompted officials to urge residents to stay home and avoid icy roads. Texas officials, concerned about millions who have lost power, have opened warming centers and deployed National Guard troops to check on residents.
In the Houston area alone, about one million people were without power on Monday night, which was expected to be the coldest night in 30 years, with temperatures falling to 10 degrees.
“To those who have lost power, I know you are frustrated, I know you’re miserable, I know you’re uncomfortable,” Lina Hidalgo, the top public executive of Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, told residents on Monday.
Yet Ms. Hidalgo said it was not possible to predict when power might be restored.
“And in fact, as much as we wish it weren’t so, things will likely get worse before they get better,” she said. “There’s a high chance the power will be out for these folks until the weather gets better, which will not be for a couple of days.”
Houston emergency management officials offered tips to help residents stay warm, even without power. They suggested using duct tape, blankets and towels to cover windows and blocking doorways with towels to stop icy drafts.
Houston fire officials said they had responded to an increase in carbon monoxide poisonings, as residents turned to generators and space heaters to stay warm. They urged residents to make sure they had installed carbon monoxide detectors.
The bitter cold has broken records that had stood for decades, from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast. In Hibbing, Minn., on Monday, the temperature plunged to minus 38 degrees, beating the previous record of minus 32, set in 1939.
In North Platte, Neb., it was minus 29, dipping below the previous record of minus 23 set more than a century ago, in 1881. In Oklahoma City, it was minus 6, also a record.
“I’m very pleased that it seems as if the people of Oklahoma City are largely staying home,” the city’s mayor, David Holt, said. “That was obviously what we hoped they would do. And we continue to make that request. That is probably the best bet.”
At least three people were killed and at least 10 others were injured when a tornado tore through a coastal town in southeastern North Carolina, officials said early Tuesday.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., said at midnight that a tornado had been observed west of the city in Brunswick County, and that there had been structural damage and downed power lines along a highway.
Brunswick County officials later said at a news conference that three people had been killed in the storm and that 10 others were injured. They also said there had been a “significant amount of damage” in the area.
Randy Thompson, a commissioner for Brunswick County, said at the news conference that the tornado had caused structural damage, leading to the evacuation of some people from their homes. He did not elaborate on the exact damage or the number of people affected. Shelters were being set up to help those in need, he said.
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office posted photographs on its Facebook page that showed downed trees across roadways and homes destroyed by the storm.
“I’m afraid of what daylight is going to bring here in Brunswick County at Ocean Ridge Plantation,” a reporter for the local television station WWAY, Tanner Barth, wrote on Twitter after surveying the damage in Ocean Ridge Plantation. “Houses are completely gone and that’s just what I can see right now.”
It was not clear how or whether the tornado was meteorologically related to the massive winter storm that swept across the southern and central United States on Monday.
Earlier on Monday, the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Fla., shared photographs on Twitter of destruction from an area near Damascus, Ga., a town of about 300 people in the southern part of the state, after a tornado passed through the area.
The images showed roofs ripped from some homes, windows blown out and trees scattered on top of residences. But the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said in a tweet that no fatalities had been reported.
A winter storm delivered snow and ice from Seattle to San Antonio on Monday, bringing frigid temperatures and rolling blackouts to parts of the United States that are unaccustomed to severe winter weather.
The winter storm stretching across much of the United States caused widespread disruption in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine on Monday. Clinics where shots were being given were closed and shipments of the vaccine were stalled as snow and ice grounded flights and turned highways dangerously slick.
Many of the closures and cancellations were in the South, where the storm was particularly fierce — and where the pace of vaccinations in several states has lagged behind the national average. On Monday, vaccine appointments were rescheduled or canceled from Texas to Kentucky.
The interruptions appeared likely to grow in the coming days, as the storm continued its path across the country.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said on Monday that vaccination distribution run by the state would be brought to a halt through the rest of the week.
“Missouri is experiencing severe winter weather that makes driving dangerous and threatens the health and safety of anyone exposed to the cold,” Mr. Parson said in a statement.
In Alabama, hospitals closed vaccination clinics, as did more than two dozen county health departments. In New Hampshire, state officials said vaccinations would be canceled on Tuesday.
The storm’s impact on vaccine distribution seemed national in scope. Health officials in Washington State, where the storm came and went, said they were dialing back vaccination plans later this week because they anticipated delays in the delivery of new doses. Mr. Parson of Missouri said the weather would likely interfere with some vaccine shipments to his state as well.
Recent multiple-vehicle pileups amid this year’s brutal weather have underscored the dangers of driving in winter conditions. In 28 hours last week, from early Thursday to Friday morning, the Iowa State Patrol received calls for help at 195 crashes. In Texas, six people were killed and dozens were hospitalized on Thursday in a pileup that involved more than 100 vehicles on Interstate 35.
In both states, the authorities had issued warnings about hazardous driving conditions. Drivers in Texas were confronted with slick roads and patches of ice. An Arctic front that sped across Iowa enveloped vehicles in a wintry mess of freezing rain, snow and ice.
Experts offer these tips on driving safely in winter weather:
Heed travel advisories, and avoid driving in inclement weather if at all possible.
If a driver sees a string of cars and trucks ahead crashing into each other like dominoes, Steve Gent, a traffic safety director in Iowa, has two recommendations. First, tap your brakes. Then, maneuver to avoid. “Take the ditch,” Mr. Gent said. “The worst thing you want to do is slow down and get in the pileup. We design those ditches so you can drive in, and you are not going to flip over.”
Drivers should avoid roadways that do not give them an out, said Will Miller, an analyst with Crash Analysis Consulting in Southlake, Texas. Avoid highways that have barrier walls on both sides, and beware bridges, overpasses and other elevated structures. They freeze more quickly and stay frozen longer than the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises drivers to double-check that they understand how their vehicle’s equipment, such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, will perform in wintry conditions. Experts generally advise against using cruise control when ice or snow patches could crop up.
Andrew Gross, a spokesman for AAA, advised drivers to ensure at least “three seconds of distance between you and the car ahead of you.” That means you should be able to count at least three seconds between when the car ahead of you passes a landmark and when your car passes the same point. Slamming on brakes in ice, snow or rain should be avoided because it can lead to hydroplaning.