A major winter storm that already cut electric power to about 350,000 homes and businesses from Texas to the Ohio Valley was set to leave Pennsylvania and New England glazed in ice and smothered in snow Friday, forecasters said.
A foot of snow was expected to accumulate in northern New York and northern New England, but it was the ice that threatened to wreak havoc on travel and electric service in the Northeast before the storm heads out to sea late Friday and Saturday, said Rick Otto, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.
“Snow is a lot easier to plow than ice,” he said.
Even after the storm pushes off to sea late Friday and Saturday, ice and snow were expected to linger through the weekend because of subfreezing temperatures, Otto said.
About 350,000 homes and businesses lost power from Texas to Ohio on Thursday as freezing rain and snow weighed down tree limbs and encrusted power lines, part of a winter storm that caused a deadly tornado in Alabama, dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of the Midwest and brought rare measurable snowfall and hundreds of power outages to parts of Texas.
The highest totals of power outages blamed on icy or downed power lines were concentrated in Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Ohio, but the path of the storm stretched further from the South and Northeast on Thursday. Some schools and universities across the region closed on Friday as a result of poor weather conditions.
Along the warmer side of the storm, in western Alabama, Hale County Emergency Management Director Russell Weeden told WBRC-TV a tornado that hit a rural area Thursday afternoon killed one person, a female he found under rubble, and critically injured three others. A home was heavily damaged, he said.
Tornadoes in the winter are unusual but possible, and scientists have said the atmospheric conditions needed to cause a tornado have intensified as the planet warms.
More than 20 inches (51 centimeters) of snow was reported in the southern Rockies, while more than a foot of snow fell in areas of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
The flight-tracking service FlightAware.com showed more than 9,000 flights in the U.S. scheduled for Thursday or Friday had been canceled, on top of more than 2,000 cancellations Wednesday as the storm began.
For a second straight night, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport officials mobilized to accommodate travelers stranded at the American Airlines hub overnight by flight cancellations. Wednesday night, the airport provided pillows, blankets, diapers and infant formula to an estimated 700 marooned travelers and were ready Thursday night “to provide assistance in anticipation of customers who may need to stay in the terminals,” according to an airport statement.
The Ohio Valley was especially affected Thursday, with 211 flight cancellations at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Thursday. Nearly all Thursday afternoon and evening flights were canceled at the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport. UPS suspended some operations Thursday at its Worldport hub at the airport, a rare move.
Most of the homes and businesses without power Friday were in Tennessee and Ohio, according to the website poweroutage.us, which tracks utility reports. Early Friday, about 131,000 Tennessee customers were without power, including more than 125,000 in the Memphis area.
Crews worked Friday to remove trees and downed power lines from Memphis streets, while those who lost electricity spent a cold night at home, or sought refuge at hotels or homes of friends and family. Public works and utility officials in Memphis said it could take days for power to be restored in the city.
Freezing rain and sleet that caused ice accumulation on trees — making them sag and lose heavy limbs that dropped onto streets, homes and cars — stopped Thursday evening. But banging sounds from falling tree limbs continued through the night in residential neighborhoods.
Freezing temperatures meant the ice would remain a problem for days, making driving dangerous, officials said. Robert Knecht, Memphis’ public works director, said Thursday evening that there were 225 downed trees on city streets and crews were working 16-hour shifts to clear them.
“We do foresee, though, that it’s going to take multiple days, given the inclement weather conditions, to clear the public right of way,” Knecht said during an online news conference.
Meantime, almost 83,000 were without power in Ohio early Friday.
In Texas, the return of subfreezing weather brought heightened anxiety nearly a year after February 2021’s catastrophic freeze that buckled the state’s power grid for days, leading to hundreds of deaths in one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history.
Facing a new test of Texas’ grid, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said it was holding up and on track to have more than enough power to get through the storm. Texas had about 15,000 outages on Friday morning, and earlier totals came nowhere close to the 4 million outages reported in 2021.
Abbott and local officials said Thursday’s outages were due to high winds or icy and downed transmission lines, not grid failures. Power had been restored by the end of the day to more than half of those who lost power.
The storm began Tuesday and moved across the central U.S. on Wednesday’s Groundhog Day, the same day the famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. The storm came on the heels of a nor’easter last weekend that brought blizzard conditions to many parts of the East Coast.
Foody reported from Chicago and Bleed reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writers Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; Paul J. Weber in Austin; Jake Bleiberg and Terry Wallace in Dallas; Paul Davenport in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis and Jay Reeves in Alabaster, Alabama, contributed to this report.