A relentless winter weather pattern – one of the most ruthless in years – showed no sign of easing on Tuesday as it left traces of destruction, power outages and sub-zero temperatures in dozens of states.
And even more bad weather was on the way: Another winter storm with snow and ice was supposed to hit parts of the south and the Midwest on Wednesday before crashing into the Mid Atlantic and northeast on Thursday.
A total of 115 million Americans were on the way of the next storm from Texas to Massachusetts on Tuesday, the weather service said.
At least 20 people have died as a result of a series of storms that moved from coast to coast in the past few days, including three in a tornado that raced through a North Carolina coastal town late Monday night.
Authorities in several states reported deaths in accidents on icy roads, including two people whose vehicle slipped off a road on Sunday and overturned on a Kentucky waterway, state police said. A Mississippi man died after losing control of his vehicle, which overturned on an icy road near Starkville Monday night, Oktibbeha County coroner Michael Hunt said Tuesday.
In Texas, more than 3.2 million customers were without power as of late Tuesday night, according to poweroutage.us, a tracking website. Oregon and Kentucky both reported more than 100,000 customers without power.
In the middle of the US, another bitterly cold day brought record lower temperatures on Tuesday, 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 shed up to a foot and a half of snow and closed schools for personal tuition when officials told residents to stay away from the snow-covered streets. Governor JB Pritzker issued a disaster statement for Illinois.
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More blackouts could occur in Texas, the weather service said, threatening people’s ability to heat their homes in record-breaking temperatures.
Texas governor Greg Abbott said Monday the state’s National Guard had been deployed to conduct welfare checks and move people to one of 135 thermal centers set up across the state.
The bitter cold across the state has left some energy companies unable to generate electricity from coal, natural gas and wind due to freezing temperatures, Abbott said.
Texas’ Electric Reliability Council, which manages power for 26 million customers, announced Monday that it was starting controlled outages “to protect the power grid from uncontrolled, cascading outages.”
Austin-based Tracy Liu found that her home’s power went off at 2:07 a.m. on Monday and stayed off on Tuesday afternoon. “I thought there would be blackouts,” Liu said, adding that the city could have provided better instructions. “We could have bought non-electric heaters or other non-electric devices. Nobody was prepared for it. ”
Much of East Texas faced a winter storm 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 night.
“Ice accumulations between a quarter and a half inch are possible, which would lead to dangerous travel conditions, more power outages and additional tree damage in these areas,” said the weather service.
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Forecasters in Houston, where north of the city could see up to half an inch of ice, said the buildup could “be potentially devastating if those amounts were even higher”. Early Tuesday, a woman and girl died of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in a home with no power from a car that drives in an attached garage, police said.
At least 13 children have been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, the hospital said in a social media post warning that families would “take extreme measures to warm their homes” – with propane or diesel combustion engines and generators, gas stoves and stovetops.
Also in the Houston area early Tuesday, three children and their grandmother died in a house fire while it was believed they were trying to stay warm during a power outage.
Further south, Corpus Christi was due to issue an indication of boiling water on Tuesday after a major main water break. “We have a major water pipe break somewhere in our system and are currently investigating this. This is resulting in low water pressure or no water supply,” said city spokeswoman DeAnna McQueen.
In the meantime, a new winter storm should develop in the southern plains on Tuesday and head south on Wednesday, the weather service reported.
About 3 to 6 inches of snow could build up over the Lower Mississippi Valley and into the Ohio and Tennessee valleys on Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
Parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas could see up to 8 inches of snow through Tuesday and Wednesday, local forecasters said.
The Norman, Oklahoma, forecast bureau said light winds Tuesday could lead to “periods of very dangerous wind chill” that could plunge below a negative 20 degrees in Oklahoma City and much of the northern part of the state.
Northern Louisiana may see only a few inches of snow, but almost half an inch of ice was possible, the weather service said. More than 76,000 people were without power on Tuesday morning.
“We cannot say exactly when the thawing will take place and the roads can go from unsafe to unsafe to unsafe again, so everyone needs to be aware of this,” he said.
In Nashville, forecasters said Wednesday’s storm would “be another snow / ice producer, albeit not on the scale of this earlier system.” Memphis could also see up to half a foot of snow by Thursday.
According to the Capital Weather Gang, more than 50 million people could see sub-zero temperatures in the next few days.
Record-breaking cold accompanied the storm in the central United States on Monday. Hundreds of daily record temperatures were or will be broken during this lengthy “polar fall,” the weather service said, “with some February and even all-time lows temperature records in jeopardy.”
The weather service said the cold Tuesday could lead to “daily anomalies … between 35 and 45 degrees below normal”.
Featuring: Jordan Culver, USA TODAY; Dian Zhang, USA TODAY; Emma Dill, Wilmington Star News; Vicky Camarillo, The Corpus Christi Caller Times; The Associated Press