A major winter storm that already cut electric power to about 350,000 homes and businesses from Texas to the Ohio Valley was set to leave Pennsylvania and New England glazed in ice and smothered in snow Friday, forecasters said.
A foot of snow was expected to accumulate in northern New York and northern New England, but it was the ice that threatened to wreak havoc on travel and electric service in the Northeast before the storm heads out to sea late Friday and Saturday, said Rick Otto, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.
“Snow is a lot easier to plow than ice,” he said.
Even after the storm pushes off to sea late Friday and Saturday, ice and snow were expected to linger through the weekend because of subfreezing temperatures, Otto said.
About 350,000 homes and businesses lost power from Texas to Ohio on Thursday as freezing rain and snow weighed down tree limbs and encrusted power lines, part of a winter storm that caused a deadly tornado in Alabama, dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of the Midwest and brought rare measurable snowfall and hundreds of power outages to parts of Texas.
The highest totals of power outages blamed on icy or downed power lines were concentrated in Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Ohio, but the path of the storm stretched further from the South and Northeast on Thursday. Several schools and universities across the region closed on Friday as a result of poor weather conditions.
Along the warmer side of the storm, in western Alabama, Hale County Emergency Management Director Russell Weeden told WBRC-TV a tornado that hit a rural area Thursday afternoon killed one person, a female he found under rubble, and critically injured three others. A home was heavily damaged, he said.
Tornadoes in the winter are unusual but possible, and scientists have said the atmospheric conditions needed to cause a tornado have intensified as the planet warms.
More than 20 inches (51 centimeters) of snow was reported in the southern Rockies, while more than a foot of snow fell in areas of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
The flight-tracking service FlightAware.com showed more than 9,000 flights in the U.S. scheduled for Thursday or Friday had been canceled, on top of more than 2,000 cancellations Wednesday as the storm began.
For a second straight night, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport officials mobilized to accommodate travelers stranded at the American Airlines hub overnight by flight cancellations. Wednesday night, the airport provided pillows, blankets, diapers and infant formula to an estimated 700 marooned travelers and were ready Thursday night “to provide assistance in anticipation of customers who may need to stay in the terminals,” according to an airport statement.
The Ohio Valley was especially affected Thursday, with 211 flight cancellations at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Thursday. An airport spokeswoman told the Cincinnati Enquirer that all flights were canceled Thursday except for Delta Air Lines and American Airlines flights before noon.
Nearly all Thursday afternoon and evening flights were canceled at the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, and Friday flights could be as well, spokeswoman Natalie Chaudoin told the Louisville Courier-Journal. UPS suspended some operations Thursday at its Worldport hub at the airport, a rare move.
Almost 300,000 homes and businesses were without power, mostly in Tennessee and Ohio, according to the website poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports. As night fell Thursday, almost 150,000 Tennessee customers were without power, including about 135,000 in the Memphis area alone — or one-third of the customers of Memphis Light, Gas & Water.
Power restoration could take days, said Gale Carson, the utility’s spokeswoman. “It’s not going to be a quick process,” she said.
Six people were taken to a hospital after a 16-vehicle crash on a Memphis highway. Two were in critical condition when taken to an emergency room after the crash on Austin Peay Highway, the Memphis Fire Department said on Twitter. Four others suffered non-critical injuries.
Trees sagged under the weight of ice in Memphis, resulting in fallen tree limbs and branches. Parked cars had a layer of ice on them and authorities in several communities around the city warned of some cars sliding off slick roadways.
Meantime, almost 70,000 were without power in Ohio, with large percentages of the population in southeastern Ohio in the dark.
In Texas, the return of subfreezing weather brought heightened anxiety nearly a year after February 2021’s catastrophic freeze that buckled the state’s power grid for days, leading to hundreds of deaths in one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history.
Facing a new test of Texas’ grid, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said it was holding up and on track to have more than enough power to get through the storm. Texas had about 70,000 outages by Thursday morning, nowhere close to the 4 million outages reported in 2021.
Abbott and local officials said Thursday’s outages were due to high winds or icy and downed transmission lines, not grid failures. Power had been restored by the end of the day to more than half of those who lost power.
The disruptive storm began Tuesday and moved across the central U.S. on Wednesday’s Groundhog Day, the same day the famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. The storm came on the heels of a nor’easter last weekend that brought blizzard conditions to many parts of the East Coast.