National Weather Service issues a winter storm warning for more than 100 million Americans living from east Texas to the East Coast state of Maryland.
Millions of people are still without power in Texas, the oil and gas capital of the United States, as an unusual winter storm pummeled the southeastern part of the country and another blast of ice and snow threatened to sow more chaos.
On Wednesday, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a winter storm warning for more than 100 million Americans living from east Texas to the East Coast state of Maryland.
"Crippling" ice accumulations were possible in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, the NWS said, causing power outages, tree damage, and making driving hazardous.
It said an Arctic air mass was beginning to lose its grip on an area of the country not used to such extreme cold but frigid temperatures were expected to continue.
"Temperatures will still remain 20 to 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) below normal throughout the Plains, Mississippi Valley, and lower Great Lakes," the NWS said.
"There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area," said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, referring to Texas.
The Winter Storm Warning has been trimmed back to the east, and no longer includes DFW. Note however that with temperatures still well below freezing, icy road conditions will persist! #txwx #dfwwx #ctxwx pic.twitter.com/bvJLIZdeX6— NWS Fort Worth (@NWSFortWorth) February 17, 2021
More than 20 storm-related deaths have been reported in the United States since the cold weather arrived last week, most of them in traffic accidents.
Six inches of snow have been recorded in Austin, the most in more than 70 years. The city of Abilene, northwest of Austin, received a record 14.8 inches of snow on Tuesday.
Power companies in Texas have implemented rolling blackouts to avoid grids being overloaded as residents crank up the heat.
There have also been widespread water shortages in Texas and many residents have reported burst pipes in a state where they tend not to be insulated.
According to PowerOutage.US, more than 3.1 million customers were without power on Wednesday in Texas, the only one of the US's 48 continental states to have its own independent power grid.
'We are nearing a failed state'
"More Misery Ahead," was the front page headline in the San Antonio Express-News. "Failures of Power," said the Houston Chronicle.
Beto O'Rourke, a former Democratic presidential candidate from Texas, told MSNBC television the situation was "worse than you are hearing."
"Folks have gone days now without electricity. They're suffering," he said.
"So much of this was avoidable," O'Rourke added.
"The energy capital of North America cannot provide the energy needed to warm and power people's homes in this great state. We are nearing a failed state in Texas."
Austin airport to reopen
Austin Energy, the local power company, said nearly 200,000 area customers were without electricity.
"Customers should be prepared to not have power through Wednesday and possibly longer," it said.
The energy company published the locations of "warming centers" set up in local schools.
While electricity companies are struggling to get power restored, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was to resume flights on Wednesday after a two-day hiatus caused by heavy snowfall.
Jeff Zients, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said the cold weather was impacting the delivery and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
"There's certain parts of the country, Texas being one of them, where vaccination sites are understandably closed," Zients said.
"What we're encouraging governors and other partners to do is to extend hours once they're able to reopen."
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Many weather-related deaths so far have resulted from traffic accidents, but Houston police said a woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after sitting in a car in a garage with the engine running to keep warm.
A man in Louisiana died when he hit his head after slipping on ice, and a 10-year-old Tennessee boy perished after he and his six-year-old sister fell through the ice into a pond on Sunday.
The winter storm spawned at least four tornadoes, according to Atlanta-based weather.com, including one in coastal North Carolina late Monday that killed at least three people and injured 10.
Across the southern border, Mexican officials said six people died after temperatures plunged.
Four died in Monterrey, three of them homeless people who succumbed to exposure, and one person at home from carbon monoxide poisoning from a heater.
Two agricultural workers died in neighboring Tamaulipas from hypothermia.