Millions across the South and central US brace for ice storm

Jan 31, 2023, 1:30 PM | Updated: 5:49 pm
Showy highway in Texas...
An icy mix covers Highway 114 on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, in Roanoke, Texas. Dallas and other parts of North Texas are under a winter storm warning through Wednesday. (Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
(Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

(CNN) — A winter storm bringing the triple threat of ice, sleet and snow Tuesday to parts of the South and central US has prompted officials to close roads and schools as they urge people to avoid traveling in dangerous conditions.

More than 40 million people from southeastern New Mexico to West Virginia are under various forms of winter weather alerts, including warnings of dangerous ice accumulations that are already making roads a nightmare, particularly in Texas, where roadways across the state have been shut down as first responders fan out to help motorists.

One person has already been confirmed dead in a 10-car pileup in south Austin, according to the Austin Fire Department. A second person was killed in Arlington, Texas, when their vehicle rolled over, Arlington police said.

And northeast of the city, two people involved in a multivehicle collision along Highway 130 were taken to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries after going over the side of an overpass bridge, per Austin-Travis County EMS.

One of the victims had exited their vehicle before being struck by a car and thrown off the bridge, Capt. Darren Noak said, while the other saw a vehicle sliding toward them and jumped off the bridge to avoid being hit.

Aside from the hazardous travel conditions, the National Weather Service warned in its forecast Monday that the ice storm would “lead to tree damage and power outages across the hardest-hit regions.”

Cities under ice storm warnings include Memphis, Tennessee, and Little Rock, Arkansas, while a slew of Texas cities — among them Dallas, San Antonio, San Angelo and Waco — are under winter storm warnings.

Freezing rain is already being reported across the South Tuesday morning, with ice accumulations of one-tenth of an inch to three-tenths of an inch recorded in parts of Arkansas, Texas and Kentucky since Monday.

The heaviest ice accumulation is forecast across large portions of Texas, which could see one- to three-quarters of an inch through Thursday morning. One-quarter inch of ice is possible across a wider swath of the region, including southern Oklahoma, Arkansas, northwestern Mississippi and parts of Tennessee.

A wind chill warning issued by the National Weather Service of Salt Lake City on Saturday predicted dangerously cold temperatures in Utah; the warning remains in effect until Tuesday morning but may be extended based on weather conditions. Along the northern Wasatch Front, wind chill values were expected to reach 10 degrees below zero Monday night; in Salt Lake and Utah counties, the wind chill was forecast between zero and 10 degrees.

The freezing temperatures and wind chill pose an increased risk of hypothermia and frostbite. The weather service advised people to limit time outside, wear appropriate clothing and pack vehicles with emergency supplies.

Here’s what parts of the country can expect throughout the day:

  • Oklahoma City will see brief icing Tuesday morning, while the afternoon will bring significant icing to central Texas, central Arkansas and western Tennessee.
  • Texas will be dealing with widespread icy conditions, with the heaviest accumulation likely coming Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning. Drivers in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin can expect dangerous conditions on roads.
  • Residents in Oklahoma City are under a winter weather advisory through Wednesday afternoon, with the expectation of seeing up to two-tenths of an inch of ice.
  • Icing up to two-tenths of an inch may also be seen in Louisville, Kentucky, while Charleston, West Virginia, may see sleet up to an inch and ice up to a tenth of an inch.
  • The first wave of freezing rain will begin to weaken as it moves toward West Virginia by late morning.

Dangerous roads and canceled flights

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged residents to stay home in a news conference Tuesday, saying about 1,600 roads across the Lone Star State have been impacted by the storm and will remain dangerous for the next 24 to 48 hours.

Since Monday, EMS crews in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have responded to at least 142 traffic accidents, including 16 rollover crashes, according to MedStar, a regional EMS authority. In Austin, the fire department has responded to at least 19 traffic accidents stemming from ice on the roads since midnight, it said on Twitter early Tuesday.

Overall, 14 state agencies are responding, the governor said, with nearly 4,000 personnel and more than 2,500 pieces of equipment. The Texas National Guard is prepared across the state to assist stranded motorists, clear roadways and provide welfare checks, Abbott added, and Texas Parks and Wildlife has at least 30 responders preparing for search and rescue operations.

Meanwhile, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, said it expected to “meet forecasted demand” — a signal the utility, which accounts for about 90% of the state’s electricity, aims to avoid a repeat of the massive power outages that left millions freezing for days during a winter storm two years ago.

But the state’s power grid “is functioning very effectively,” Abbott said at the news conference. Per the governor, there were just 7,000 reported outages across the state as of 10 a.m. ET.

In Arkansas, the governor declared a state of emergency Monday and activated the winter weather support teams of the state’s National Guard to be prepared to help respond to the storm.

“I encourage Arkansans who are experiencing winter weather to avoid travel if possible and heed the warnings of local officials,” Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter.

The emergency order directs $250,000 toward discretionary use by the head of the state’s Division of Emergency Management to provide funding for program and administrative costs, the order stated.

“The real enemy is going to be that ice,” said Dave Parker, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Transportation. “This could potentially be a pretty dangerous situation.”

Most of the state is expected to be impacted, and the state is treating most major roads, Parker added.

The wintry conditions have also prompted more than 1,800 flight cancellations within, into, or out of the US, including more than 400 flights departing from Texas airports, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

Ice is the primary concern

The storm is poised to hit areas in the southern and central regions in waves through Wednesday.

And while the forecast shows there will be periods of reprieve over the next two days, roads will likely be dangerously slick throughout the storm as temperatures remain low.

Tuesday is expected to be the toughest day for driving as Texas bridges and roads become icy, according to the weather service’s Fort Worth office.

“More widespread freezing rain/sleet is expected Tuesday and Wednesday morning, with worsening travel impacts during this time,” the local weather agency said.

Significant icing of about half of an inch is expected on roads in Austin, San Angelo and Dallas. while San Antonio may see up to a tenth of an inch of ice.

Meantime, Texas’ primary electricity provider, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told CNN it will be able to meet residents’ demand as temperatures plummet.

“We expect sufficient generation to meet forecasted demand and are continuing to monitor forecasts, this week. We are not asking for Conservation at this time. We are informing the public that IF they … experience an outage to reach out to their local power provider,” the agency said in an email.

In Dyer County, Tennessee, icy conditions led officials to shut down the Interstate 155 bridge, according to the highway patrol.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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Millions across the South and central US brace for ice storm