Millions Without Power as Bitter Cold Hits the U.S. Southern Plains, Deadly Tornado in NC

A massive winter storm immobilized the Southern Plains; and at least three people were killed when a tornado tore through North Carolina.

At least three people were killed when a tornado tore through a seaside town in North Carolina, one of many wild and deadly impacts from a sprawling blast of winter weather across the United States. Millions of people in Texas remained in the dark early Tuesday amid subfreezing temperatures, and authorities warned of treacherous travel conditions in many states.

The massive winter storm that immobilized the Southern Plains was heading to the eastern Great Lakes and New England, where heavy snow and freezing rain was expected Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

The storm system left behind record-setting cold temperatures with wind-chill warnings extending from the U.S.-Canada border to the U.S.-Mexico border in the nation’s midsection, according to forecasters.

And, in unwelcome news for the millions without power, more snow and ice was predicted late Tuesday and Wednesday along a storm front reaching from Texas to the Appalachian states.

The worst outages were in Texas, affecting more than 4 million homes and businesses Tuesday. More than 250,000 people also lost power across parts of Appalachia, and another quarter-million were still without electricity following an ice storm in northwest Oregon, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports.

“We’re living through a really historic event going on right now,” said Jason Furtado, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma.

The blackouts forced a Texas county to scramble to get more than 8,000 doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine into arms. The Harris County Public Health facility lost power between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Monday and its backup generator also failed, said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Looking for large groups of people in places where they wouldn’t have to drive and with appropriate medical personnel on hand, county officials distributed the doses at three hospitals, Rice University and the county jail. Hidalgo, the top elected official in Houston, said she didn’t believe any of the vaccines were lost.

Authorities in multiple states reported deaths in crashes on icy roads from this weather front, including two people whose vehicle slid off a road and overturned in a waterway in Kentucky on Sunday, state police said.

Deaths in Texas included a woman and a girl died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston, at a home without electricity from a car running in an attached garage, police said. Law enforcement also said subfreezing temperatures were likely to blame for the deaths of two men found along Houston-area roadways.

With more frigid days expected in Texas, where frustration mounted over power outages that weren’t expected to be resolved until later Tuesday at the earliest. The state’s overwhelmed power grid imposed blackouts that are typically only seen in 100-degree Fahrenheit (38-degree Celsius) summers.

“Things will likely get worse before they get better,” said Hidalgo.

The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities across 14 states, called for rolling outages because the supply of reserve energy had been exhausted. Some utilities said they were starting blackouts, while others urged customers to reduce power usage. State officials said surging demand was driven by people trying to keep their homes warm and cold weather knocking some power stations offline.

More than 500 people were hunkering down at one shelter in Houston, but Mayor Sylvester Turner said other warming centers had to be shut down because those locations, too, lost power.

The worsening conditions also delayed the delivery of new COVID-19 vaccine shipments. State health officials said Texas, which was due to receive more than 400,000 additional vaccine doses this week, now does not expect deliveries to occur until at least Wednesday.

Several cities had record lows: In Minnesota, the Hibbing/Chisholm weather station registered minus 38 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 39 degrees Celsius), while Sioux Falls, South Dakota, dropped to minus 26 Fahrenheit (minus 26 degrees Celsius).

In Kansas, where wind chills dropped to as low as minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 34 degrees Celsius) in some areas, Gov. Laura Kelly declared a state of disaster.

Most government offices and schools were closed for Presidents Day, and authorities pleaded with residents to stay home. Louisiana State Police reported that it had investigated nearly 75 weather-related crashes caused by a mixture of snow, sleet and freezing rain in the past 24 hours.

Air travel was also affected. By midmorning, 3,000 flights had been canceled across the country, more than half of them in Texas. At Dallas/Fort Worth International, the temperature was 4 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius), colder than Moscow.

More winter weather Tuesday will blast large parts of the South with freezing rain, snow and record cold temperatures, the National Weather Service warned.

Northern Louisiana is in the bullseye for the highest amounts of freezing rain from the incoming system, forecasters said in a Tuesday briefing, and more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow was possible in Arkansas, according to the federal Weather Prediction Center.

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