A winter storm dropping snow and ice also sent temperatures plunging across the southern US plains states, prompting a power emergency in Texas a day after conditions canceled flights and affected traffic across large swaths of the US.
Rotating power outages were initiated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), early on Monday, meaning thousands went without electricity for short periods as temperatures fell into the teens near Dallas and 20sF (about -5C) around Houston.
“We urge Texans to put safety first,” the council tweeted as it urged residents to reduce electricity use. ERCOT manages the flow of electric power in the state.
“Traffic lights and other infrastructure may be temporarily without power,” ERCOT said, describing the rotating outages as a “last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole” and adding that utility transmission companies are tasked with determining how to reduce demand on the system.
“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” ERCOT president Bill Magness said in a statement.
The rotating outages were expected to last through Monday morning. More than 1.6 million customers were in the dark as of 5am local time, according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking site.
Around 5,000 Oklahoma Gas & Electric customers were without power overnight and Entergy Arkansas logged about 3,000 outages. Both states have much smaller populations than Texas.
Officials in Houston had warned people to prepare for outages and hazardous roads – conditions similar to the wake of a category 5 hurricane.
“There have been numerous reports of accidents from icing recently,” National Weather Service (NWS) lead forecaster Bob Oravec said on Monday. “I think there’s going to be a big threat today as the system pushes north-eastward.”
Accumulating ice between a tenth and a quarter of an inch was possible across eastern Louisiana, Mississippi, central Tennessee, Kentucky and over into the West Virginia and Ohio border region, Oravec said.
Up to 12in of snow was expected across parts of the southern plains into Monday, said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center.
The region had been gearing up for the winter weather for the better part of the weekend. Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all of the state’s 254 counties. Abbott, Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt and Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson activated national guard units to assist state agencies with tasks including rescuing stranded drivers.
President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Texas in a statement on Sunday night. The declaration is intended to add federal aid to state and local response efforts.
More than 760 flights were canceled at Dallas-Fort Worth international airport and at Dallas Love Field most of nearly 200 flights for Southwest Airlines, the airport’s main carrier, were canceled on Sunday. American Airlines said about 345 of its flights were canceled at DFW airport, its hub, by early Sunday afternoon. The airline said the storm was affecting flights across the region, with operations reduced and canceled at airports across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
The NWS said the forecast through early Tuesday called for 8in to 12in of snow in central Oklahoma, and 4in to 8in from eastern Texas to the Ohio Valley.
In Memphis, Tennessee, snow started falling on Sunday afternoon. While main roads were still passable, lines formed during the day at grocery stores as people rushed to stock up. In Mississippi, Bill Parker, an NWS meteorologist in Jackson, said up to three-quarters of an inch of ice could accumulate, bringing the possibility of power outages or falling tree limbs.
Parts of Kentucky and West Virginia still recovering from an ice storm last week were expected to get up to a quarter-inch of ice or up to 8in of snow by Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific north-west, tens of thousands were without power after a winter storm blanketed the region with ice and snow and made travel treacherous.