South Central US is bracing for another brutal round of sub-freezing temperatures, snow and ice
The Polar Plunge
(CNN) — There was “no shortage of winter weather hazards” across the United States on Sunday, with half of all Americans under winter warnings, watches or advisories, according to the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
But there’s one particularly ferocious winter storm that’s taking aim at the South Central US, parts of which are still reeling from the deadly conditions a separate storm system created last week. And the worst part: It will be followed by another strong storm system that’s likely to hit Tuesday.
“For longtime residents of southeastern Texas, southern Oklahoma, northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas, this will likely be the worst week of winter weather in your lifetime so far,” CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.
The winter storm making its way into the region Sunday has put parts of southern Texas under winter storm watches for the “first time in a decade,” the prediction center said.
President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency in Texas on Sunday and ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supplement state and local efforts to deal with the winter storm, according to the White House.
Winter storm warnings extend throughout all 254 counties in Texas, all 77 counties in Oklahoma and all 75 counties in Arkansas. In records that go back 35 years, this appears to be the first time all Texas counties have been under a winter storm warning at the same time, according to CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller.
Heavy snowfall was forecast in areas from New Mexico to the Mississippi Valley on Sunday, the center said, while ice will glaze over the Texas coast to the Tennessee Valley into Monday.
“The swath of accumulating ice and snow on Monday is impressive, stretching from south Texas to the northern Mid-Atlantic,” it added. “Heavy snow on Monday will also blanket much of the Lower Mississippi, the Ohio Valley, into the Northeast.”
Parts of central Oklahoma could see up to 12 inches of snow by Tuesday — with some areas possibly seeing more, according to the center. Areas from eastern Texas and the Ohio Valley all the way to the Northeast, meanwhile, could see up to 8 inches. And up to a half-inch of ice from the Lower Mississippi Valley to the Tennessee Valley could make for treacherous travel conditions, power outages and tree damage, the center added.
The storm was already affecting parts of the country, with more than 580,000 customers dealing with power outages in five states, according to Poweroutage.us. As of 9 p.m. ET, Oregon had the most power outages in the nation with 238,906, followed by Virginia with 169,917 and Texas with 123,719. North Carolina and Kentucky were also reporting significant numbers of power outages.
Utility company Dominion Energy said in a Facebook post that more than 48 hours of ice accumulation had caused extensive damage across Virginia. More than 5,200 workers and more than 500 bucket trucks were working to restore power, the company said.
As ice accumulates, another storm takes aim
Last week, at least nine people died in car crashes in the wake of winter storms that brought freezing rain and ice across the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas.
Now, parts of the region are expected to see the worst ice-related impacts Monday, while another storm will be gaining strength to begin only a day and a half later.
“With two crippling storms in five days, some people in remote areas will struggle to cope as temperatures remain below freezing and snow and ice remain on roadways,” Van Dam said. “The cumulative potential economic impact for these regions cannot be overstated.”
“Long duration, brutally cold temperatures in combination with significant ice and heavy snow will put a strain on the energy sector not experienced in years,” he added.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas on Sunday asked consumers and businesses to reduce power use as much as possible through Tuesday.
The University of Texas at Austin planned to close its campus at 4 p.m. Sunday and remain closed through at least 8 a.m. Wednesday. All classes and events, including virtual ones, were canceled and only essential staff members will report to work, the school said.
Impacts from the second winter storm are likely to be felt through Thursday, while details on just how powerful it could be will become clearer in the coming days.
Ahead of the concerning weather conditions, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Saturday he would request a Federal Emergency Declaration from the White House to make resources available for the affected communities.
“Every part of the state will face freezing conditions over the coming days, and I urge all Texans to remain vigilant against the extremely harsh weather that is coming,” the governor said in a statement. “Stay off the roads, take conscious steps to conserve energy, and avoid dangerous practices like bringing generators indoors or heating homes with ovens or stovetops.”
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued an emergency declaration Sunday alerting the city’s public safety and infrastructure agencies to continue winter weather preparations ahead of expected freezing weather, according to a statement released by the mayor’s office.
Freezing temperatures were the primary threat to the New Orleans area, with a hard freeze expected to occur overnight Monday lasting into Tuesday morning, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Thursday ahead of winter weather expected to affect Louisiana through Tuesday.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued a State of Disaster Emergency Sunday afternoon as the state continues to suffer the effects of a severe winter storm, according to a news release from her office.
Kelly asked residents to conserve energy in order to reduce the stress on power companies and natural gas providers during a week of sub-zero temperatures.
Severe weather causes several accidents
Several multi-vehicle accidents were reported across Texas and Oklahoma on Sunday as the two states faced winter storms.
The Texas Department of Public Service reported at least four accidents along Interstate 20 in parts of Ward and Midland counties — including a 25-vehicle crash on a segment of I-20 westbound in Ward County and a six-car pileup eastbound on I-20 near Pyote.
The agency did not provide details on possible injuries and said travel was discouraged in these areas.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said it responded to 56 non-injury collisions, 24 injury collisions and 116 motorist assists during Sunday’s storm, and the Turner Turnpike remains closed east of Oklahoma City because of a multi-vehicle accident there Sunday afternoon.
The injury crash involved multiple semitrucks and passenger vehicles. The agency tweeted photos showing at least one semitruck on fire.
“Do not get out if you don’t have to,” the agency said in the tweet.
A state of emergency was in effect for all of Oklahoma on Sunday night as the state battled the storm. The state opened three shelters for overnight stays Sunday, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
140 temperature records could be shattered
And it won’t just be freezing this week — it will be so numbingly cold that there will likely be more than 140 record-low temperatures shattered from Sunday morning through Tuesday morning, Van Dam said.
And more records could be set by mid-week, he added.
More than 55 million people are already under wind chill alerts from North Dakota southward to Texas and from Indiana west to Montana, Van Dam said.
Wind chills will range from about 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit near the Canadian border to 20 degrees below zero across central Texas, he added.
“This initial cold blast will last through Tuesday morning with another reinforcing shot of cold arctic air entrenching itself southward to the Gulf Coast by midweek,” Van Dam said.
In Northwest, more snow coming
As the South Central United States gets battered with cold weather, snow and ice, another storm will blanket parts of the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies on Sunday, Van Dam said.
Seattle already received more than a years’ worth of snow from a storm that cleared out late Saturday.
The city saw about 8.9 inches of snow Saturday, marking a tie for the 12th snowiest day in more than 125 years of records, according to the National Weather Service in Seattle.
“The last time Seattle had more than 8.9 inches of snow in a day was January 27, 1969,” the service wrote.
The storm moving in on Sunday will likely drop about another 1 to 2 inches of snow before that transitions to rain in lower elevations.
Meanwhile up in the Cascades and the Northern Rockies, snow “will be measured in feet,” Van Dam said.
What this means for Covid-19 vaccines
Officials in parts of the country that will be impacted by severe weather have said vaccinations will also be affected.
Federal officials expect Covid-19 vaccine shipments to Texas will be delayed over the next week because of weather conditions, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief W. Nim Kidd said.
“Our vaccines that are set to arrive on Sunday, Monday will probably not arrive until Wednesday, Thursday, so we will see delays in vaccine coming into the state,” Kidd said.
Some local outdoor vaccination sites have shut down ahead of the storm, the chief said.
“Indoor vaccination administration, as long as it is still safe to drive there, will continue,” Kidd added.
Meanwhile in Oregon, the mass Covid-19 vaccination site at the Oregon Convention Center will be closed Sunday because of the weather conditions, according to a tweet from Kaiser Permanente NW.
Those who had appointments will be contacted to reschedule, another tweet said.
The weather service’s Portland office said in a tweet Saturday that freezing rain in the northwestern parts of the state resulted in widespread power outages. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency Saturday due to weather.
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