A large portion of the country — from west Texas to West Virginia — was hit Tuesday by a winter storm that forced the cancellation of more than 1,900 flights, coated roads with ice and led to separate wrecks that seriously injured two law-enforcement officers.
More than 50 million Americans were under some kind of winter weather warning or watch Tuesday afternoon as the cold front expanded east, presaging more dangerous driving conditions through Wednesday.
“Prolonged and significant ice storm to continue impacting a large area from the southern Plains to the Tennessee Valley,” the National Weather Service said, adding that “additional rounds of wintry precipitation, with brief lulls followed by bursts of sleet and freezing rain … could drastically deteriorate road conditions.”
That was true in much of Texas, where a state trooper was hospitalized after being hit by a driver who lost control of the vehicle and a sheriff’s deputy was in surgery after stopping to help the driver of an 18-wheeler that went off an icy highway and getting struck by a second truck.
In Travis County, home of the capital city of Austin, officers started responding to a new crash every three minutes from 8 a.m. on, according to the Austin-Travis County Traffic Report Page. That included at least one fatality.
“It is advised to NOT be on the roads today,” the Fort Worth office of the weather service said in a tweet. “If possible, please stay home. It’s messy out there.”
Flying wasn’t much better. By Tuesday afternoon, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport had canceled 560 flights — more than half its total — and delayed another 200-plus.
Other airport developments:
►In New York, LaGuardia Airport issued a brief ground stop early Tuesday from icy weather conditions that were causing ” flight disruptions.” Planes began flying again, and delays were averaging almost an hour. Travelers were advised to check with airlines to determine the status of flights.
►In North Carolina, Charlotte Douglas International Airport issued a ground stop because of fog and low visibility.
►In Kentucky, Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport was briefly closed because of weather conditions.
Flight cancellations mount amid ongoing ice storm
Travelers at U.S. airports face flight cancellations and delays with more than 1,100 flights already canceled for Wednesday, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.
Texas airports, such as Dallas-Fort Worth International, Dallas Love Field, and Austin-Bergstrom International, are experiencing the majority of cancellations and delays. According to FlightAware, over 1,900 flights were canceled within, into or out of the U.S. with more than 4,600 delays as of Tuesday night.
Power outages, hazardous roads in Texas
A winter storm warning was in effect in north Texas and western central Texas until noon on Wednesday, the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth said. The area was mostly expecting freezing rain and sleet. The Austin metro area was also under a winter storm warning until Wednesday.
The storm left more than 30,000 customers without power, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us. Gov. Greg Abbott emphasized that was because of downed trees or iced electrical lines, not the performance of the Texas power grid that buckled for days during a deadly winter storm in 2021.
Fleets of emergency vehicles were fanned out among 1,600 roads impacted by the freeze. “The roadways are very hazardous right now. We cannot overemphasize that,” Abbott said.
Authorities in Austin responded to about 215 collision calls Tuesday as the Texas capital remains under a winter storm warning and winter weather advisory until Thursday.
The weather service warned that significant ice accumulation impacts and periods of freezing warned are expected in the local area. Austin police advised people to stay indoors due to hazardous travel conditions.
Ice storm warning extends to Southern states
The ice storm warning impacting Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee until noon on Wednesday was expected to bring ice accumulations of a quarter to ½ inch, the weather service in Memphis said.
Travel is discouraged in these areas, and power outages and tree damage are likely from the icy conditions. Parts of east Arkansas, Northern Mississippi and west Tennessee were under an ice storm warning, prompting Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders to declared a state of emergency.
Interstate 40 in the Forrest City area of Arkansas had a coat of ice that made for “extremely hazardous” conditions early Tuesday, said the city’s fire department, which posted photos of semi trucks that had wrecked.
Division Chief Jeremy Sharp said the department had responded to more than 15 crashes Tuesday morning, often with drivers going too fast as they reached an icy bridge. “They hit the ice and they start wrecking,” he told The Associated Press.
Treacherous road conditions in Nashville, Memphis
The National Weather Service warned that much of Tennessee was facing ice and sleet. Nashville schools delayed opening two hours late Tuesday because of the potential for hazardous road conditions when buses would be on the road.
“Roads and bridges/overpasses are very slick. Please use extreme caution,” the Memphis office tweeted. “If you don’t have to be out, please stay home. Accidents have been reported all over the area.”
Wind advisories, wind chills as low as 35 degrees below zero
Farther north, wind advisories were in effect in Wisconsin, Minnesota and other states across the Midwest and Plains until Tuesday morning. Wind chills dropped to 35 degrees below zero in some places. The dangerous temperatures can “cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes,” the National Weather Service warned.
Similar warnings extended into:
Temperatures are expected to rise in parts of Wisconsin on Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Appleton Post-Crescent, part of the USA TODAY Network. But wind chills are expected to drop into negative 20s on Friday.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
FLIGHTS SCRUBBED:Almost 1,000 US flights canceled Tuesday morning as winter storm extends east
SIGNIFICANT ICING EVENT:50 million under winter weather warnings as arctic cold moves in; Texas braces for days of ice