Dangerous road conditions from bands of sleet and snow were blamed for six deaths as a winter storm snarled traffic across parts of the nation’s midsection, forced the cancelation of flights and left hundreds of thousands without power Wednesday in several Southern states.
Watches and warnings stretched from Texas to Tennessee and Mississippi. Several rounds of mixed precipitation, including freezing rain and sleet, were in store for many areas throughout the day, meaning some regions could be hit multiple times, forecasters said.
“It actually looks like it's going to be getting worse again across Texas, it is already a pretty big area of freezing rain across western and southwestern Texas,” according to National Weather Service lead forecaster Bob Oravec in Camp Springs, Maryland.
Oravec said the winter weather is expected to move northeastward across parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas into western Tennessee and northern Mississippi, before starting to end.
“By later in the day on Thursday it should be pretty much done and all the ... precipitation will be well downstream across parts of the South and where it will be mostly heavy rain,” Oravec said.
More than 1,900 flights scheduled for Wednesday nationwide had already been canceled by Wednesday morning, according to the tracking service FlightAware. The list for cancelations included both major airports in Dallas and airports in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee.
Nearly 260,000 power outages were reported in Texas, including more than 130,000 in the the state capital of Austin, according to the website PowerOutage, which tracks utility reports.
Electric Reliability Council of Texas President and CEO Pablo Vegas has vowed that the state's electrical grid and natural gas supply will be reliable, and there would be no repeat of the February 2021 blackouts when the grid was on the brink of total failure.
As the ice and sleet enveloped Memphis, Tennessee, Memphis-Shelby County Schools announced it would cancel classes Wednesday due to freezing rain and hazardous road conditions. The school system has about 100,000 students. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis was also closed due to the weather.
Also in Memphis, the icy weather delayed the funeral service for Tyre Nichols, who died following a brutal beating by police after a traffic stop.
The Dallas Independent School District, with about 145,000 students, also canceled classes Wednesday.
Emergency responders rushed to hundreds of auto collisions across Texas on Tuesday and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott urged people not to drive. At least six people died on slick Texas roads since Monday, including a triple fatality crash Tuesday near Brownfield, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Lubbock.
Two Texas law officers, including a state trooper who was struck by a vehicle while investigating a crash on Interstate 45 southeast of Dallas, were seriously injured, authorities said.
In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency Tuesday because of icy conditions. Her declaration cited the “likelihood of numerous downed power lines” and said road conditions have created a backlog of deliveries by commercial drivers.