Thousands of flights have been canceled and more than 70,000 customers in Texas have been left without power in the midst of a fierce winter storm that has put around 108 million people from New Mexico to Maine under winter and flood alerts early Thursday.
The storm system has already brought freezing rain, sleet and snow to Dallas-Fort Worth, the National Weather Service said, with central Kentucky, Syracuse and upstate New York expected to get snow Thursday through Friday.
Close to 6 million people were also under an ice storm warning early Thursday.
More than 4,000 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were canceled for Thursday as of 9 a.m. ET, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. Many of those flights were for airports in the Dallas and Austin areas.
In Texas, more than 71,000 customers were without power as of around 9 a.m. ET, according to outage tracker PowerOutage.us.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had warned residents earlier this week of potential power outages and impacts to travel on roadways, around a year after the state suffered severe power losses in a winter freeze.
“There will be thousands upon thousands of miles of roads that will be extraordinarily dangerous,” he said Tuesday. “Over the coming few days, the roadways could become very treacherous.”
Forecasters say the impacts of this week’s winter storm in Texas will not be as bad as in February 2021, when the state suffered extreme cold that crippled its power system.
Last year’s storm brought seven days of below-freezing temperatures, compared to the three days expected this week, the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said.
The 2021 winter storm caused billions of dollars in damage and has been blamed for 247 deaths — with 161 from “cold exposure-related injuries,” according to a Texas Department of State Health Services report.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which operates the bulk of the state’s power grid, was subjected to intense criticism after last winter’s disaster. On Wednesday, the organization tried to reassure residents that it has made improvements. It has also issued a watch through Sunday and said there is enough capacity to meet the high energy demand that was forecast.
“With frozen precipitation there is always a chance for local outages caused by things like ice on wires or fallen tree limbs,” ERCOT said in a statement. “These local outages are not related to the amount of available electricity generated and put on the grid.”
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Wednesday, saying that the weather system could bring one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of ice to some areas into Friday.
“Three-quarters of an inch is debilitating wherever it occurs,” Beshear said. He said the storm could make travel difficult or impossible and that Kentuckians need to be prepared to stay off roads.
Indianapolis, where sleet turned to snow Wednesday evening, could get up to a foot of snow, forecasters said. Other parts of Indiana could get 18 inches.
The storm system has already blanketed parts of the Rockies and the Midwest.
Parts of the Denver area got more than 10 inches of snow in weather that began Tuesday, the weather service said Wednesday afternoon.
About 9 inches of snow was recorded at Chicago’s Midway International Airport, and the city’s O’Hare International Airport got 5 inches by late Wednesday afternoon, the weather service said. More than 800 flights were canceled between them, according to the city’s Aviation Department.