Snow, ice and bitterly cold air blanketing much of U.S. and bringing some unprecedented conditions
A winter storm dropping snow and ice also sent temperatures plunging across the southern Plains, prompting a power emergency in Texas Sunday, a day after conditions canceled flights and impacted traffic across large swaths of the U.S.
Rotating power outages were initiated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, early Monday morning, meaning thousands went without electricity for short periods as temperatures fell into the teens near Dallas and 20s around Houston.
“We urge Texans to put safety first,” the council tweeted as it urged residents to reduce electricity use. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power in the state.
“Traffic lights and other infrastructure may be temporarily without power,” ERCOT said.
Almost 1.7 million customers were in the dark early Monday morning, according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking site.
For the first time ever, all 254 Texas counties were under a winter storm warning Sunday. The temperature in Dallas was colder than in Anchorage, Alaska.
Up to 400 record cold temperatures were possible across the country through the middle of the week, said CBS News meteorologist and climate specialist Jeff Berardelli.
“Right now, we have two major weather systems coming together across the country, a very strong storm track right here and some of the coldest air on Earth, the polar vortex forcing that cold air into a very moist and stormy environment,” Berardelli said Sunday. “That means major snow and incredibly dangerous ice across the deep South.”
CBS Dallas reported that powerful winds were creating below-zero wind chills. For the first time ever, a wind chill warning was in effect for North Texas. Dangerously cold “feel-like” temperatures were expected Monday night and Tuesday.
CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV said all of Southeast Texas was also under a wind chill warning, through Tuesday morning.
Officials in Houston had warned people to prepare for outages and hazardous roads – conditions similar to what residents might see in the wake of a Category 5 hurricane.
Nearly 120 crashes, including a 10-car pileup on I-45, were reported Sunday, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña tweeted.
Significant ice and up to 12 inches of snow were expected across parts of the southern Plains into Monday, said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.
“Typically, we just don’t have quite this much cold air in place that far south,” Chenard said.
In a statement Sunday night, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Texas and ordered federal assistance to aid state and local response efforts. The declaration allows the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance, equipment and resources to those affected by the storm.
The region had been gearing up for the winter weather for the better part of the weekend. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all of the state’s 254 counties, and had warned on Saturday: “All of Texas is facing an extremely dangerous winter storm.”
Abbott, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson each activated National Guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers.
More than 760 flights were canceled at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and at Dallas Love Field most of the nearly 200 flights for Southwest Airlines, the airport’s main carrier, were canceled on Sunday.
American Airlines said about 345 of their flights were canceled at DFW Airport, its hub, by early Sunday afternoon. The airline said the storm was also affecting their flights across the region, with operations reduced and canceled at airports across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Officials were discouraging travel in the wintry conditions.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said a portion of the Turner Turnpike was shut down due to a multi-vehicle accident, while the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said the southern corridor of Interstate 35 was mostly snow packed in the left lane and conditions were expected to deteriorate.
The National Weather Service said Sunday that the forecast through early Tuesday calls for 8 to 12 inches of snow in central Oklahoma, and 4 to 8 inches in an area extending from eastern Texas to the Ohio Valley in the Northeast.
In Memphis, Tennessee, snow started falling Sunday afternoon, and while main roads were still passable, lines formed during the day at grocery stores as people rushed to stock up.
In Mississippi, sleet in Jackson and other central parts of the state left roads and bridges slick. Bill Parker, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Jackson, said up to three-quarters of an inch of ice could accumulate in central Mississippi, bringing the possibility of power outages or falling tree limbs.
Parts of Kentucky and West Virginia still recovering from an ice storm last week are expected to get up to a quarter-inch of ice or up to 8 inches of snow by Tuesday.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people were without power after a winter storm blanketed the Pacific Northwest with ice and snow and made travel treacherous. Seattle saw its most snow in nearly half a century this weekend.