An unrelenting winter weather pattern – one of the most merciless in years – showed no signs of letting up Tuesday as it left a trail of destruction, power outages and subzero temperatures across dozens of states.
At least 15 people have died as a result of a series of storms that moved from coast to coast over the past few days, including three killed in a tornado that tore through a seaside North Carolina town. In Texas, over 3 million customers remained without power as of Tuesday afternoon.
Across the middle of the U.S., another bitter cold day Tuesday brought more record-low temperatures, and additional snow was expected to bury parts of the southern Plains on Tuesday evening, the National Weather Service said.
In the Chicago area, the storm dumped up to a foot and a half of snow, shuttering schools to in-person classes as officials urged residents to stay off the snow-filled roads. Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation for Illinois on Tuesday.
And more foul weather was on the way: Another winter storm with snow and ice was forecast to pummel portions of the South and Midwest on Wednesday before slamming into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Thursday. In all, as of late Tuesday, some 115 million Americans were in the path of the next storm, all the way from Texas to Massachusetts, the weather service said.
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Millions without power in Texas as temperatures plummet
More than 3 million homes and businesses were without power Tuesday afternoon in Texas, where temperatures dipped into the single digits overnight. And more power outages could be coming, the weather service said, threatening people’s ability to heat their homes amid the record-cold temperatures.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday said the state’s National Guard had been deployed to conduct welfare checks and help bring people to one of the 135 warming centers established across the state.
The bitter cold across the state has led to some power companies being unable to produce electricity from coal, natural gas and wind because of the freezing temperatures, Abbott said.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages power for 26 million customers, said Monday that it was beginning controlled outages “to protect the electric grid from uncontrolled, cascading outages.”
Tracy Liu of Austin discovered the power was off in her house at 2:07 a.m. on Monday and remained off Tuesday afternoon. “I thought it was rolling blackouts,” Liu said, adding that the city could have given better instructions. “We could have bought nonelectric heaters or other nonelectric appliances. No one was prepared for it.”
Also in Austin, Aaron Heth and his girlfriend, Jacqualyn Mangels, were still without power Tuesday afternoon and had been in the dark for almost 36 hours. They had heard of warming centers but said they’re not considering going because “there’s still coronavirus going on.”
Much of east Texas was under a winter storm warning Tuesday in anticipation of the next round of snow and ice. In Dallas, the weather service said more ice and another 2 to 6 inches of snow were expected Tuesday evening.
“Ice accumulations ranging between a quarter to a half inch are possible, which would make for hazardous travel conditions, induce more power outages, and cause additional tree damage in these areas,” the weather service said.
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Forecasters in Houston, where north of the city could also see up to half an inch of ice, said the accumulations could be “potentially devastating should these amounts be even higher.” Early Tuesday, a woman and a girl died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning at a home without electricity from a car running in an attached garage, police said.
The storm also could be to blame for the deaths of two men found along Houston-area roadways, law enforcement officials said. Causes of death were pending Monday night.
Also in the Houston area, three children and their grandmother died in a house fire early Tuesday while it’s believed they were trying to stay warm during a power outage.
Farther south, the city of Corpus Christi was expected to issue a boil water notice Tuesday after a major water main break. “We are experiencing a major water main break somewhere in our system and we are investigating that right now, and it’s led to low water pressure or no water service,” city spokeswoman DeAnna McQueen said.
Brunswick County tornado leaves 3 dead in North Carolina
In North Carolina, three people died and 10 were injured when a tornado hit early Tuesday in southeastern Brunswick County near Grissettown in the Ocean Ridge Plantation Community.
The tornado damaged at least 50 homes, snapped trees in half and downed powerlines that left thousands without electricity.
“It’s something like I have never seen before. A lot of destruction. It’s going to be a long recovery process,” Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram said at a news conference Tuesday.
People who were trapped in homes were rescued by Tuesday morning, Brunswick County officials said.
South braces for more cold, another snow and ice storm
A new winter storm was expected to develop in the southern Plains on Tuesday and head for the South on Wednesday, the weather Service reported.
Across the Lower Mississippi Valley and into the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, 3 to 6 inches of snow could accumulate on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
Parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas could see up to 8 inches of snow by Wednesday, local forecasters said.
The forecast office in Norman, Oklahoma, said light winds Tuesday could lead to “periods of very dangerous wind chills,” dropping below negative 20 degrees in Oklahoma City and much of the northern part of the state.
The northern part of Louisiana may only see a couple of inches of snow, but nearly half an inch of ice was possible, the weather service said. More than 76,000 people were without power Tuesday morning. Gov. John Bel Edwards has called the weather “a very serious emergency.”
“We can’t tell exactly when the thaw-out is going to happen, and the roads may go from being unsafe to safe to unsafe again,” he said.
In Nashville, forecasters said the storm Wednesday will be “another snow/ice producer, although not of the magnitude as this past system.” Memphis could also see up to half a foot of snow through Thursday.
More than 50 million people could see temperatures dip below zero during the next several days, according to the Capital Weather Gang.
On Monday, record-smashing cold accompanied the storm across the central U.S. Hundreds of daily record-low temperatures have been or will be broken during this prolonged “polar plunge,” the weather service said, “with some February and even all-time low temperature records in jeopardy.”
The weather service said the cold Tuesday could lead to “daily anomalies … between 35 to 45 degrees below normal.”
Slim chance of half a foot of snow in mid-Atlantic later this week
In the Northeast on Tuesday, up to 10 inches of snow were expected in some areas, the weather service offices in New Hampshire and Maine said.
The Great Lakes region was also seeing snow on Tuesday. In Chicago, forecasters said Tuesday marked the 12th of 16 days in February that had seen measurable snowfall, a “remarkable stretch.”With gusts up to 20 to 30 mph, wind chills were hovering near 0 degrees.
Several more inches of snow are possible Thursday and Friday once the storm moves from the South to mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Most of New Jersey, Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland could expect snow that changes into a wintry mix Thursday into Friday, forecasters said.
In Baltimore and Washington, D.C., 1 to 3 inches of snow was likely, but the weather service office said there was a 10% chance the storm could bring 6 to 8 inches of snow.
Contributing: Dian Zhang, USA TODAY; Emma Dill, Wilmington Star News; Vicky Camarillo, The Corpus Christi Caller Times; The Associated Press