Deadly Ice Storm Snarls Travel Across Southern US
Extremely dangerous road conditions were blamed for at least six deaths across the southern Plains as a multiday winter storm brought rounds of sleet and freezing rain from Oklahoma to Texas and Arkansas. Thousands of flights were canceled, and hundreds of thousands were left without power across several Southern states.
The first round of winter weather made travel difficult across parts of Texas on Monday, but road conditions seriously deteriorated on Tuesday and Wednesday following more rounds of freezing rain and sleet. Emergency responders in Texas were busy this week, responding to the hundreds of accidents that occurred on the icy roadways. At least six people have died on the slick roads in the Lone Star State since Monday, The Associated Press reported.
One of the deadly accidents was a triple fatality crash on Tuesday near Brownfield, which sits about 40 miles southwest of Lubbock. The vehicle had lost traction while traveling eastbound on U.S. Highway 380 and started to skid. It crossed over the median into the westbound lane and rolled into a ditch, according to Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. A fourth passenger in the car was injured in the crash.
Authorities said another person was killed in Austin in a pileup on Tuesday before sunrise, and a 45-year-old man died Monday night after his SUV slid into a highway guardrail near Dallas and rolled into an embankment, according to the AP.
In the neighboring state of Arkansas, authorities cited the winter weather as a factor in a fatal crash in Benton County. A spokesperson for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office stated a flatbed truck that was hauling equipment lost control and flipped on a road east of Avoca, Arkansas, killing the driver.
Two Texas law enforcement officers were seriously injured while responding to storm-related crashes. A Travis County sheriff’s deputy who stopped to help the driver of a tractor-trailer that slid off an icy highway Tuesday was hit by a second truck that pinned him beneath one of its tires. The deputy is expected to survive, authorities said.
A Texas State Police trooper was seriously injured on Monday when he was struck while responding to one of the numerous crashes reported in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, authorities said.
Steven C. McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said a driver who was traveling “too fast for conditions” lost control of their vehicle and hit the trooper on Interstate 45 south at Exit 220 near Corsicana in Navarro County, about 50 miles south of Dallas. Due to deteriorating road conditions, McCraw said it took the ambulance about an hour and a half to get to the hospital. McCraw confirmed the injury during a press conference with Gov. Greg Abbott and state emergency officials Tuesday.
Abbott said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that there were 4,000 professionals across 14 agencies responding to the winter storm unfolding across the state. He added the ice was creating dangerous conditions on the roads.
“The roadways are very hazardous right now. We cannot overemphasize that,” Abbott said at a press conference.
Officials with Fort Worth’s Metropolitan Area EMS Authority, known as MedStar EMS, told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell that they responded to 116 motor-vehicle accidents on Monday alone. At least 12 of the 116 accidents resulted in a vehicle rollover, and 30 patients were transported to nearby hospitals.
MedStar EMS also responded to nine calls of people slipping on ice. At least seven people were transported to nearby hospitals, and one remains in serious condition. Temperatures across the region dropped significantly Monday, which resulted in six separate hypothermia-related calls for MedStar EMS. At least three patients were taken to nearby hospitals, and all remained in serious condition.
Not many drivers were on the roadways on Wednesday morning in Fort Worth, Texas. A video shared by AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell showed roads blanketed with a sheet of ice in the city. Wadel noted that intersections in downtown Fort Worth looked like ice skating rinks.
“It’s slippery, I’m telling you, it’s dangerous,” Kenyatta Robinson, a Denton, Texas, resident, told Wadell on Wednesday. “I got in my vehicle to go to work, and my truck just slipped back down. You have no control. It’s like a block of ice.”
DoorDash suspended all Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth operations on Wednesday, citing the icy driving conditions.
“This significant winter storm has created extremely hazardous travel conditions,” DoorDash spokesperson Julian Crowley told Fox 4 News. “To help keep our community safe, DoorDash is proactively activating its Severe Weather Protocol and suspending operations in the Dallas and Fort Worth areas.”
Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer shuffled across a parking lot in downtown Dallas on Wednesday, the asphalt coated in a thick layer of ice.
“[It is] incredibly dangerous not only to drive, but even to walk out here, and that’s why you’ve got to be incredibly careful when you’re walking around today. It is as slippery as it gets,” Timmer said in a video update.
Texas wasn’t the only state where road conditions deteriorated. Two accidents on Interstate 40 in Arkansas led to a major standstill on the highway Tuesday morning. An Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) camera showed both sides of the highway congested with tractor-trailers and other vehicles. ARDOT said parts of the interstate were covered in ice, which led to the two accidents.
The accidents were cleared shortly after 10 a.m. CST on Tuesday, and traffic flow resumed to normal on the interstate, according to ARDOT.
The funeral for Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, was delayed due to the icy weather affecting travel across the city, according to the AP. The service was delayed until 1 p.m. CST as the city remained under an ice storm warning expected to end on Thursday morning.
Travel disruptions weren’t limited to just the ground either. Air travel across the United States was severely impacted during the winter storm. On Monday, 1,130 flights across the U.S. were canceled and another 5,744 were delayed, according to FlightAware. Nearly 2,000 flights were canceled on Tuesday, and 5,519 flights were delayed.
The trend continued on Wednesday, as more than 2,000 flights were canceled and another 2,000 were delayed across the country before midday.
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field accounted for the majority of the country’s canceled flights this week. Major flight cancellations also occurred at the Austin-Bergstorm International Airport and Nashville International Airport.
The winter weather resulted in a disruption to FedEx’s operations this week. On Tuesday, the company announced that the weather was creating “hazardous operating conditions” and that “substantial disruptions” were reported at its Memphis, Dallas/Fort Worth and Indianapolis hubs. FedEx released another update on Wednesday as the winter weather continued to interrupt service.
“Potential delays are possible for package deliveries across the U.S. with a delivery commitment of Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023,” FedEx wrote. “Contingency plans are in place, and we are prepared to provide the best possible service as conditions allow.”
At Old Tunnel State Park, Texas, located north of San Antonio, 0.63 of an inch of freezing rain fell on Tuesday. Llano, Texas, located north of Old Tunnel State Park, picked up 0.50 of an inch of freezing rain on Tuesday. In Arkansas, several locations also picked up at least half of an inch of freezing rain on Tuesday.
It was a mixed bag of precipitation, including freezing rain and sleet, some of which came down heavily enough that thunder accompanied it.
As the ice-encased tree limbs and power lines, power outages started to climb on Tuesday afternoon across the Southern states.
As power outages climbed in Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, with power service restoration a top priority for the state.
On Wednesday morning, power outages jumped into the hundreds of thousands in Texas. Since 5 a.m. CST, the number of outages in the Lone Star State nearly tripled, with more than 280,000 customers without power in the early afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US.
On Wednesday morning, several videos were posted to Twitter showing flashes illuminating the sky across Austin, Texas, as transformers exploded across the city. Quickly after the transformer lit up the sky with hues of blue, purple and red, streetlights and houselights went dark. In Travis County, home of Austin, roughly 126,000 customers in the Austin area alone were without power.
Austin Energy confirmed that the outages in Travis County were due to the “severe winter weather” and not related to a statewide grid issue.
“Ice is accumulating on power lines, utility poles and tree limbs, leading to power outages,” Austin Energy wrote on Twitter. “Crews are facing icy roads & frozen equipment, making it difficult to provide estimated restoration times. It’s possible some customers may be without power for 12-24 hours.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Abbott reassured the public that the statewide power grid has “plenty of reserves and plenty of power.” It was two years ago this month that the Lone Star State endured a historic cold outbreak amid a series of winter storms that wreaked havoc with the state’s power grid.
“The power grid itself is functioning effectively as we speak,” Abbott said on Tuesday. “There’s not anticipated to be any challenges to the power grid in the state of Texas.”
Freezing rain and sleet are expected to let up across the country before midday on Thursday, AccuWeather forecasters say.
Produced in association with AccuWeather.