A massive deadly winter storm that caused power outages in Texas and immobilized the Southern Plains was carrying heavy snow and freezing rain eastward with bad weather spreading into New England and the Deep South, the National Weather Service said. Millions of people remained without power amid subfreezing temperatures, and authorities warned of treacherous travel conditions in many states.
The storm system left behind record-setting cold temperatures with wind-chill warnings extending from Canada into Mexico. Chicago woke up to a foot and a half of snow, forcing the closure of in-person classes for Chicago Public Schools.
The worst U.S. outages were in Texas, affecting more than four 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. Another four million people lost power in Mexico.
Texas is the only state in the continental U.S. that has its own power grid, which is not subject to federal regulation, CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca reports. “Everyone is working feverishly around the clock to restore this electricity because we understand that that electricity is the stuff of life,” Andrew Barlow with the state’s Public Utility Commission told Villafranca.
The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states, imposed rolling two-hour blackouts to ease the extreme demand for heat and electricity. It said the outages were “a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”
The outages 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 after 1 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.
“It feels amazing. I’m very grateful,” said Harry Golen, a 19-year-old sophomore who waited for nearly four hours with his friends, much of it in the frigid cold, and was among the last people to get the shots, which otherwise wouldn’t have reached students until March or April.
Hidalgo, the top elected official in Houston, said she didn’t believe any of the vaccines were lost. But the worsening conditions also delayed vaccine deliveries. More than 400,000 additional vaccine doses due in Texas now won’t arrive until Wednesday at least, officials said.
In North Carolina, a tornado killed three people and injured at least 10 as it tore through a golf course community and another rural area just before midnight Monday, destroying dozens of homes. Governor Roy Cooper said rescue operations were continuing Tuesday.
“The sky lit up and there was a lot of pop-pop-popping. And the loud thunder. And then it sounded like a train, a freight train coming through. The roar of a freight train. That’s when all the damage occurred,” said Sharon Benson, 63. She said her roof was damaged, the garage door was blown off, windows were shattered and nearby trees were uprooted.
Authorities in multiple states reported crashes on icy roads from this weather front, including two people in Kentucky who died in separate crashes on Monday, Transportation Secretary Jim Gray said.
Deaths in Texas included a woman and a girl who died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston at a home without electricity from a car running in an attached garage, police said.
With more frigid days expected, frustration mounted over power outages affecting Texas and surrounding states. The surging demand and the loss of some power stations in the cold forced blackouts typically only seen in 100-degree summers.
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.
Several cities had record lows: In Minnesota, the Hibbing/Chisholm weather station registered minus 38 degrees while Sioux Falls, South Dakota, dropped to minus 26 Fahrenheit.
In Kansas, where wind chills dropped to as low as minus 30 degrees in some areas, Governor 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 Tuesday as well. 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 Monday, 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, colder than Moscow.
The South hasn’t been spared. 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 of snow was possible in Arkansas, according to the federal Weather Prediction Center.
About 100 school systems closed, delayed opening or switched to remote classes on Tuesday in Alabama, where forecasters said conditions might not improve in some places until temperatures rise above freezing Wednesday afternoon.
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