CHICAGO: About 350,000 homes and businesses lost power across the United States on Thursday as freezing rain and snow weighed down tree branches and embedded power lines, part of a winter storm that sparked a deadly tornado in Alabama, dumping more than a foot of snow in parts of the Midwest and causing rare measurable snowfalls and hundreds of power outages in parts of Texas.
Stormy conditions have also caused headaches for travelers across the country, with airlines canceling more than 9,000 flights scheduled for Thursday or Friday in the United States.
The highest power outage totals blamed on icy or downed power lines were concentrated in Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Ohio, but the storm’s track extended farther from the central United States. United to the south and northeast on Thursday.
Heavy snowfall was expected from the southern Rockies to northern New England, while forecasters said heavy ice accumulation was likely from Pennsylvania to New England through Friday.
Parts of Ohio, New York and northern New England are expected to see heavy snowfall as the storm moves east with 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) of snowfall possible at some locations through Friday, Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland, announced Thursday morning.
However, ice accumulations were expected to be the main hazard from central and eastern Pennsylvania through the Catskill Mountains from New York to New England, NWS meteorologist Rich Otto said late Thursday.
On the warmer side of the storm, severe thunderstorms capable of damaging gusty winds and tornadoes were possible Thursday in parts of Mississippi and Alabama, the Storm Prediction Center said.
In western Alabama, Hale County Emergency Management Director Russell Weeden told WBRC-TV that a tornado that hit a rural area Thursday afternoon killed one person, one woman he found under the rubble, and seriously injured three others. A house was heavily damaged, he said.
Winter tornadoes are unusual but possible, and scientists said the atmospheric conditions needed to cause a tornado have intensified as the planet warms.
The heavy snow the storm brought to the Midwestern states is not unusual, except for the larger-than-normal path of heavy snowfall in some places, said Victor Gensini, professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University. . With a warmer climate, people are forgetting what a Midwestern winter was like, he said.
“The only incredible winters I have been able to experience are through the photographs of my parents from the 1970s,” said Gensini, who is 35. “This (storm) is normal, not only for the past, but also for current winters.”
More than 20 inches (51 centimeters) of snow was reported in the southern Rockies, while more than a foot of snow fell in parts of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
The FlightAware.com flight-tracking service showed that more than 9,000 U.S. flights scheduled for Thursday or Friday had been canceled, in addition to more than 2,000 cancellations on Wednesday at the start of the storm.
“Unfortunately, we’re looking at enough ice accumulations that we’re looking at significant travel impacts,” Orrison said.
The Ohio Valley was particularly hard hit Thursday, with 211 flight cancellations at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Thursday. An airport spokeswoman told the Cincinnati Enquirer that all flights were canceled Thursday, except for Delta Air Lines and American Airlines flights before noon.
Nearly all Thursday afternoon and evening flights were canceled at Louisville’s Muhammad Ali International Airport, and Friday flights could be as well, spokeswoman Natalie Chaudoin told the Louisville Courier-Journal. UPS suspended some operations Thursday at its Worldport hub at the airport, a rare move.
Nearly 300,000 homes and businesses were still without power as night fell Thursday, most in Tennessee and Ohio, according to the poweroutage.us website, which tracks utility reports. As night fell Thursday, nearly 150,000 Tennessee customers were without power, including about 135,000 in the Memphis area alone.
Restoring power could take days, said Memphis, Light, Gas & Water spokesman Gale Carson. “It’s not going to be a quick process,” she said.
Trees sagged under the weight of the ice in Memphis, causing branches and branches to fall from trees. Parked cars had a layer of ice on them, and authorities in several communities in the city warned that some cars were sliding on slippery pavement.
Meanwhile, nearly 70,000 people were without power in Ohio, with large percentages of southeast Ohio’s population in darkness.
In Texas, the return of below-freezing weather has sparked heightened anxiety nearly a year after the catastrophic February 2021 freeze that shut down the state’s power grid for days, killing hundreds in the one of the worst blackouts in US history.
Facing a new test of the Texas grid, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said he was holding up and was on track to have more than enough power to weather the storm. Texas had about 70,000 outages Thursday morning, a far cry from the 4 million outages reported in 2021. About half regained power by evening.
Abbott and local officials said Thursday’s outages were caused by high winds or icy and downed transmission lines, not network outages.
In Dallas, where snow rarely accumulates, the overnight mix of snow and freezing rain had hardened Thursday afternoon to an icy patch that made roads treacherous.
South Bend, Indiana, reported record snowfall for the Wednesday date of 11.2 inches (28.5 centimeters), eclipsing the previous record of 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) set for the 1908 date, a said Hannah Carpenter, meteorologist at the National Weather. Service office in Syracuse, Indiana.
Once the storm passes, she said temperatures will drop sharply, with Friday highs mostly in the upper teens, followed by single-digit lows in northern Indiana, as well as frightening wind chills.
“It’s definitely not going to melt very quickly here,” Carpenter said Thursday morning.
Freezing temperatures have settled into areas after the snowy weather, with Kansas residents waking up to dangerous wind chills of about 15 below freezing (26 degrees Celsius below zero). In New Mexico, schools and non-essential government services were closed in some areas on Thursday due to icy and snow-covered roads.
The disruptive storm began on Tuesday and moved through the central United States on Wednesday on Groundhog Day, the same day the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. The storm came on the heels of a northeasterly last weekend that brought blizzard conditions to many parts of the East Coast.