POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. – Another fierce winter storm was bringing more snow and ice across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic on Thursday, and warnings extended as far south as weather-weary Texas.
Nearly half a million customers in Texas were still without power Thursday after frigid temperatures kicked large shares of the state’s power plants off its grid this week, leaving more than 4 million in the dark and triggering outrage. Across the U.S, more than 1.1 million people had no electricity: Louisiana, Alabama and Oregon experienced widespread outages.
As many as 36 people have died this week. Traffic accidents have claimed the most lives, but some have died as a result of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning while struggling to find warmth inside their homes.
While temperatures were rising some in the middle of the country, “abnormally cold temperatures will hang around through the end of the workweek,” the National Weather Service said.
The heaviest snow was expected to fall in parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and isolated patches could get up to a foot of accumulation in the Appalachians, the weather service said.
“Significant and disruptive” ice was expected farther south, which could bring up to half an inch of accumulation in North Carolina and southern Virginia, forecasters said. “The result will be dangerous travel conditions, numerous power outages and extensive tree damage.”
Vaccination and testing sites take a hit
In New York City, forecasters were anticipating snow to bring up to 8 inches by Friday and a “light glaze of ice” over the New York and New Jersey region. Flurries of snow were already blanketing the Jersey Shore on Thursday morning. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned that the city could run out of vaccine on Thursday because of storm-related delays.
In D.C., Maryland and Virginia, localities were closing some COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites as snow caused dangerous conditions on the roads.
Farther north, the storm is expected to drop half a foot of snow from the Hudson Valley to the southern parts of New England, the weather service said.
“This storm and its predecessor a couple of days earlier, accompanied by once-in-a-generation outbreak of frigid air, has left behind an absolute mess in the South Central states and is on the move,” AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.
In parts of Georgia and Florida, a tornado watch had been issued Thursday, with the areas near the coast most at risk, forecasters said. The National Weather Service said the cold-front moving through the Southeast would trigger severe showers and thunderstorms.
Boil advisory for now; warmer weather may be on the way
Freezing temperatures lingered on Thursday in parts of Texas, where more than 568,000 were without power to heat their homes Thursday morning.
“My elderly family members have had to live off candles and hot stoves for the last couple days,” said Bertha Rendon, who has been living with her aunt and uncle in East Austin this week. “That’s when it really hit me. I mean, I’m young – I’m 41 years old – and I can take this, but they can’t. So many people in my area are going through the same thing.”
The cold weather also damaged infrastructure and pipes, forcing officials to warn 7 million people, a quarter of the state’s population, to boil drinking water before use.
In Austin, some hospitals were facing low water pressure and no heat. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urged Texans to turn off their water, if possible, to prevent damage to the water system and pipes.
Toby Baker, executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said people have been letting their faucets drip to prevent frozen pipes, and frozen lines have led to low water pressure across the state.
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Grid manager Electric Reliability Council of Texas said late Wednesday that it had restored power to approximately 8,000 megawatts, or about 1.6 million households, since the morning.
“We are working around the clock to restore power to Texans,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said. “We made progress today, but it will not be good enough until every person has their power back.”
ERCOT said it hoped to have enough power restored by Thursday that local utilities could rotate outages rather than keeping power off for extended periods of time. But managers declined to say exactly when electricity would be fully restored, saying that the main factor in coming days will be the cold weather.
Warmer weather could allow frigid power facilities to roar back to life, restore natural gas production, open up roads for skilled workers to make power repairs and cut demand from consumers, ERCOT managers said.
The power outages have prompted Abbott to call for changes. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate electricity transmission, and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which oversees reliability across the U.S., Mexico and Canada, announced earlier this week they would be launching an inquiry into the the bulk-power system.
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In Dallas, the weather service said, “the worst of the weather is behind us.” But roads will remain dangerous as they partially melt and refreeze. “This means more black ice and bumpy ruts through Saturday.”
However, some warmer weather was in sight. Temperatures were forecast to be in the 50s in Dallas, Houston and Austin this weekend, and San Antonio expected a 62-degree high on Sunday.
Oregon facing ‘dangerous’ power outages
In the Pacific Northwest, the weather service said snow in the range of 1 to 2 feet was expected to pile up along the Cascade Range. Mountain ranges in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming could see up to a foot of snow, the weather service said.
Power outages in the Portland, Oregon, area were the worst in 40 years, said Maria Pope, CEO of Portland General Electric. More than 350,000 customers at the peak of the storm lost power, and more than 100,000 in Oregon are still in the dark.
“These are the most dangerous conditions we’ve ever seen in the history of PGE,” said Dale Goodman, director of utility operations.
The outage prompted a grocery store to throw away perishable food after the store lost power. The incident led to a clash between police and people who were searching the dumpster for the food.
Calls for federal aid; boat rescue in Tennessee
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday called for President Joe Biden to issue emergency disaster declarations in their states to release federal funds amid the severe weather.
Stitt said he had spoken to Biden on the phone and asked for federal aid to assist Oklahomans dealing with power outages and freezing temperatures.
Bel Edwards said at least three people were dead in his state. More than 100,000 were still without power on Thursday, and Bel Edwards said nearly a million Louisianans are having to boil their water.
Biden has already approved an emergency declaration for Texas.
In Tennessee, rescuers saved a dozen people who were trapped when a dock collapsed under the heavy weight of snow and ice.
The Nashville Fire Department and Office of Emergency Management responded late Wednesday to the scene at the Blue Turtle Bay Marina. There were no injuries, Nashville Fire Department spokeswoman Kendra Loney said.
Contributing: Katie Hall and Asher Price, Austin American-Statesman; The Associated Press
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