Historic winter storm batters nation's mid-section
While some Texans are thrilled to see cold and snowy weather, others say the winter storm is a nightmare on the roads and causing problems at home.
The most unrelenting winter weather pattern in decades unleashed brutally unseasonable cold and record snowfall deep into Texas, sparked harrowing scenes on roadways across the middle of the country and left millions of customers without power over the weekend. The coast-to-coast weather system caused particular chaos across Texas, where rolling blackouts left people in the dark and without electricity amid teeth-chattering temperatures.
Heavily populated cities were in the throes of punishing cold on Monday morning. In Dallas, the thermometer read 7 degrees with an AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature of -19. To the north in Oklahoma City, conditions were even more brutal with the mercury at -11 and an AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature of -35.
Across the state of Texas, more than 4.3 million electricity customers were without power Monday night, while Louisiana had more than 110,000 outages and another 50,000 in Mississippi, according to PowerOutage.us.
Residents geared up for a frigid night without heat amid the sub-freezing temps and wintry precipitation.
As of Monday evening. (AccuWeather)
The first death related to the winter storm was confirmed on Monday afternoon by the Louisiana Department of Health in Lafayette Parish, which is located west of New Orleans. According to KATC News, the coroner confirmed that a 50-year-old man died in a storm-related incident after he slipped on ice and hit his head on the ground.
Multiple areas throughout the Lone Star State also have maximum daily snowfall records broken, including in Abilene and San Angelo, where double-digit amounts accumulated.
In Abilene, a Valentine's Day total of 14-plus inches broke a record that had stood for decades. The city also recorded a low temperature of 5 degrees for the day, matching a record low for the date.
Such cold air also triggered "rolling blackouts" which were supposed to temporarily knock out power for many residents for less than an hour. However, the bitter cold has triggered a “statewide power generation shortfall emergency,” according to a statement from CenterPoint Energy.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) began power outages early Monday morning to conserve energy and has urged residents to close blinds, unplug appliances and hold off on doing laundry to minimize energy usage.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner faced backlash for the outages as many took to Twitter to express frustration at the blackouts and disappointment in the city’s lack of preparation.
Around 9:30 a.m., local time, CenterPoint told customers that those in the dark “should be prepared to be without power for at least the rest of the day.” A large reason for the continued lack of power has been due to frozen wind turbines in West Texas, grid operators said.
Typically the state’s wind farms generate a combined 25,100 megawatts of energy, but those turbines were ground to a halt by the moist winter conditions. In 2020, wind power generated 23% of all the energy in Texas and was the second-largest source after natural gas, according to Statesman.com.
By Monday afternoon, the rolling blackouts had extended to Oklahoma. According to KOCO News, OG&E, which provides electricity to Oklahoma and parts of western Arkansas, began temporary blackouts to prevent the power grid from becoming overwhelmed. It’s the first time in the power company’s history such a measure has been deployed.
The massive winter storm began in the Northwest but spread across the country as Oregon, Virginia and North Carolina were among the hardest-hit states in terms of outages.
A path of snow extended from the westernmost parts of Washington and Oregon, down to New Mexico and Texas, all the way to Michigan.
While snow was spreading across the country, ice began to coat the roads in Nashville, Tennessee. The Nashville Fire Department sent multiple resources to assist with an accident involving multiple vehicles that occurred on I-24 on Saturday. Emergency responders asked for people to avoid the area or to use extreme caution if travel is a must.
On Sunday, an accident between multiple semi-trucks and passenger vehicles turned fiery on the Turner Turnpike westbound in Oklahoma. Traffic relating to the crash is being diverted to Hogback road, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol tweeted.
According to The Oklahoman, the crash involved two semi-trucks and at least six vehicles. Several people were transported to a hospital.
In neighboring Texas, the number of car accidents across Texas climbed sharply in the evening as many road became impassible. At one point early Sunday night, as snow and ice pummeled the state, there were over 130 active car accidents in the Houston area alone, according to local officials.
The entire states of Oklahoma and Texas were under winter weather alerts on Saturday. A winter storm watch was issued in Brownsville, which is the first winter storm watch the town has had in a decade.
Frigid temperatures gripped Texas on Monday morning as much of the state remained under winter weather alerts.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the storm would be "unprecedented in Texas history," KWTX reported. He also said the Texas Department of Transportation was "working around the clock" to make sure any potential issues are addressed.
Abbott issued a state of emergency across the entire state ahead of the arrival of the storm and announced on Sunday that a federal emergency declaration was approved by the White House. The declaration made additional resources available for communities impacted by this weather event.
"Every part of the state will face freezing conditions over the coming days, and I urge all Texans to remain vigilant against the extremely harsh weather that is coming," Abbott warned.
Harris County, Texas, Judge Lina Hidalgo signed a disaster declaration for the entire county on Sunday to allow emergency officials "the flexibility to utilize every available resource to respond to this historic weather," Hildago said. Harris County, where Houston is located, is the third-most populous county in the U.S.
AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, where icicles formed nearly everywhere and roadways were glazed over with ice.
“The roads are pretty icy and the sidewalks are icy,” Lexington, Kentucky, resident Abbey English told Wadell.
English told Wadell that attending her online college courses would be a challenge after losing service in the storm.
“We lost our internet so that will be a little interesting, I think they’re working on it. I like snow but I don’t really like the ice. There’s just too many things that can happen with trees falling down in the power lines,” English said.
Before stirring up all sorts of problems in the middle of the nation, the storm came barreling into the Pacific Northwest early on Saturday. Heavy snow broke out across Washington and Oregon early Saturday, and left up to two feet of snow in some places over the course of the weekend.
Snow piled up to 6 inches in downtown Seattle, Washington, early Saturday. Plows hit the roads as cars and buses struggled up steep hills on snowy, slippery roads.
Some places in Oregon, including Mount Hood and Zigzag, reported 2 feet of snow within the span of 24 hours on Saturday. By Sunday, much of the coast of the two states reported up to a foot, including Seattle.
Daily record snowfall totals were observed in both Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, on Saturday. Seattle recorded 8.9 inches of snow, which tied a record for the 12th snowiest day on record.
As of Monday morning, 286,000 customers were without power in Oregon and by Monday night that number jumped to 309,008, according to poweroutage.us.
The city of Salem, Oregon, declared a state of emergency that began on Saturday and will remain in effect for seven days.
The southernmost parts of Wyoming also received snow in the double digits, even reaching 50 inches at Sugar Loaf Campground.
Las Vegas also received its fair share of severe weather. On Saturday, the National Weather Service reported that winds reached 73 mph at the airport in northern Las Vegas, just shy of Category 1 hurricane-strength wind speeds.
The NWS warned people in the area to stay inside and for drivers moving through to remain on alert. A severe thunderstorm warning was also in effect for parts of the county.
NV Energy, an energy provider in Nevada, also reminded people to avoid downed power lines as they could be energized.
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