As a large swath of the nation’s South started to slowly defrost Thursday after a deadly encounter with a wicked winter weather system, Northern states braced for an arctic blast expected to plunge temperatures way below zero in some spots.
The death count increased to 10 – seven of them in Texas – and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were out of power as the four-day cold front that brought ice, sleet and snow continued to extract a toll even as it subsided.
“As icing transitions to rain and then ends across the South into the Mid-South, hazards will continue because thawing ice could still cause trees and tree limbs to break,” the National Weather Service said.
Canceled flights into and out of U.S. airports were approaching 800 late Thursday afternoon, about 35% of those at Dallas Forth Worth International, but that’s considerably below the thousands of the last few days.
Now the main trouble area becomes the North, where wind chills could dip as low as minus 50 because of a cold front moving in from Canada. The system was expected to hit the northern Plains and Upper Midwest on Thursday before sweeping into the Northeast and parts of the Mid-Atlantic on Friday.
“Even though it’s a short lived blast, conditions will be extremely dangerous,” the weather service said.
New England in particular is forecast to see the coldest weather in decades, with wind chills that could dive lower than minus 50 and some locations seeing temperature drops of 40-50 degrees from Thursday to Friday. People in New England and New York state prepared for wind and heavy lake-effect snow that could create hazardous travel conditions across the region.
Jay Broccolo, director of weather operations at an observatory on New Hampshire’s Mount Washington – which for decades held the world record for the fastest wind gust – said Thursday that wind speeds could top 100 mph.
“We take safety really seriously in the higher summits,” Broccolo said, “and this weekend’s forecast is looking pretty gnarly, even for our standards.”
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Other winter weather developments:
►A wind chill warning was in effect Thursday in northern New York, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and parts of Connecticut, the weather service said, adding: “These wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes.”
►In the Texas capital of Austin, which was experiencing more than 100,000 outages, the utility company and the mayor warned residents they could be without lights and heat until late Friday.
►More than 67,000 power customers in Arkansas still had no electricity late Thursday afternoon, as well as 20,000 in Mississippi and 12,000 in Tennessee.
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‘Once in a generation’ wind chills for parts of New England
The temperature drops in New England this weekend figure to provide a jolt to the system for residents not only because of how cold it will get but also how quickly it will happen.
Friday is expected to arrive in Boston with temperatures of 31 degrees and conclude at zero, with wind chill values of around minus 30. In Portland, Maine, 28 degrees will turn into minus 12 in that same 24-hour stretch, with wind chills over the weekend falling as low as 40 below zero. In northern Maine, that figure could reach minus 65.
“The wind chills have the potential to be once in a generation cold late Friday into early Saturday,” the weather service’s Portland office said.
Power outages remain a problem in Texas
Though the ice storm warning has expired across Texas, power outages continued to affect hundreds of thousands across the state.
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said at a Thursday news conference that wintry conditions have reminded the city’s residents of the “anxiety and trauma” experienced during the winter storm of February 2021 that killed at least 200 people.
Restoring electricity has been “very challenging” because of the length and nature of the storm, according to Watson.
By Thursday night, more than 323,700 customers across the state were still without power, according to PowerOutage.us.
The power failures were most widespread in Austin and officials backtracked on early estimates that power would be fully restored by Friday evening. According to Austin Energy, the extent of damage was worse than expected and the energy company was unable to predict when power could be restored.
School districts in the Dallas and Austin area were closed Thursday as snow, sleet and freezing rain continued to push through. In Austin, schools will not open until next week at the earliest.
Warming trend to bring relief to South
The National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center forecast an end Thursday to the damaging ice storm that has impacted Texas to Tennessee as “a final surge of moisture slides eastward.”
Temperatures were expected to rise above freezing in the South by Thursday afternoon, according to AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines.
Dallas and Memphis, Tennessee, could see temperatures in the mid-30s Thursday, and sunshine was expected to warm the Dallas area to the mid-40s and near 50 degrees on Friday, forecasters said.
However, overnight temperatures could drop below 32 into Friday, and while the change likely won’t bring precipitation, Kines said frozen wet spots could slicken roads Friday morning.
The bulk of the impacts was behind people in the Dallas and Fort Worth area by Thursday morning as precipitation slowly moved away, weather service meteorologist Hunter Reeves said.
“There will still be some slushy spots and many people will see better road conditions, while some are going to see barely any improvement,” Reeves told USA TODAY, adding that more widespread improvement in road conditions would begin Friday.
Ice storm warning continues in Oklahoma, Arkansas and other states
An ice storm warning remained in effect Thursday in parts of several states, the National Weather Service in Memphis said.
Officials continued to discourage travel, but people who must drive should keep an extra flashlight and food and water in their vehicles, they said.
The ice storm warning impacted over 3 million people Thursday in parts of Arkansas, southwestern Tennessee, northern Mississippi and Oklahoma.
The National Weather Service office in Dallas/Fort Worth said ice storm warnings were lifted Thursday morning as conditions improved and no advisories remained in effect in the area, though power outages and tree damage were still possible because of ice.
Wind-chill advisory in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin
A wind-chill advisory is in effect into Friday in parts of Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Wind chills could reach as low as 50 degrees below zero.
Officials advised people to wear appropriate winter clothing, including a hat and gloves, when outside.
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Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; Associated Press