A deadly storm system that is bringing snow and freezing rain to parts of the country dealing with power and water outages is also threatening to soak already saturated parts of the Southeast.
More than 100 million people are under winter weather alerts extending from Texas to New England. On Wednesday, snow and freezing rain are expected to bring perilous travel conditions from the south-central US into the central East Coast.
Bad weather has led to at least 37 deaths across the country as one winter weather system followed another over the past six days.
Flood and flash flood watches cover around 16 million in the Southeast, including Atlanta and Raleigh, according to the National Weather Service. The watches extend from Georgia into the Carolinas into Friday morning.
This storm system aside, brutally cold weather continues across the Central and Southern US, straining utilities while leaving about 2.5 million homes and businesses without electricity – about 1.9 million of which are in Texas, according to utility tracker PowerOutage.US.
There was good news Wednesday; 8,000 megawatts were added to the Texas grid Wednesday, enough power for about 1.6 million customers, according to a news released from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
Texas family goes 230 miles through wintry weather for warmth
Faced with a home with no electricity and the thought of driving 200-plus miles through snow and ice, Bryce Smith and his wife put their children in the car and headed from Austin to Royse City, where his mom’s house had power.
But first Smith had to find gas, and that took phone calls and a trip 30 miles in the other direction to a station with fuel.
Then a normally two-and-a-half hour drive turned into a five- or six-hour trek. He said the one thing that made the drive possible is that he’s from Iowa and knows how to drive in the snow.
“There are no plows here. There is no help at all. You go out here and it’s just fresh snow and ice. There’s no sand down,” he said.
The lack of power at their Austin home made it impossible to check remotely on the house. He said he is worried because pipes were bursting at homes throughout his neighborhood. But at least they are safe at his mother’s now.
In Texas, officials say high demand and freezing conditions have crippled utilities’ power generation since Sunday, causing rolling power blackouts or continuous outages, sending many people to fireplaces, vehicles or other means to stay warm.
Precipitation keeps coming down
Freezing rain fell in parts of Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana on Wednesday, leaving streets and sidewalks in some places coated in ice and making travel difficult.
Heavy rain associated with the storm is expected to drop 1-3 inches on the Carolinas and Georgia on Wednesday night into Friday, with some areas seeing higher amounts.
The rain will fall on already saturated ground that has picked up already 3-6 inches over the past week.
By Thursday, the storm is expected to drop snow from the Mid-Atlantic to New England. Some areas of Arkansas reported about a foot of snow on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden canceled a trip to Michigan on Thursday, in part due to the weather expected in Washington.
Spending the night in a car for warmth
In Texas, many residents have scrambled for alternative heating with electricity out continuously or intermittently for days.
In San Antonio, Jordan Orta and her 2-year-old son slept in her car Tuesday night because their powerless home was so cold, as outside temperatures dipped into the 20s. Her home was without power from Tuesday night until early Wednesday, after earlier outages.
Water service also has been unreliable, so when she heard service was about to shut off again, “we filled up pitchers and tubs of water,” she told CNN. “I went to (a store on Tuesday) and there was no water left, so if we lose water, it’s all we got until who knows when.”
“We have a gas stove, so we’ve been able to warm up leftovers and cook what we have,” Orta said.
In Houston, Angelina Villarreal was trying to stay warm in her chilly living room, with power out since Monday, and outside temperatures hovered near freezing.
Her bedroom flooded, thanks to a burst pipe, she told CNN.
“It’s just me, my mom, my sister and my pets trying to keep warm and eat whatever we have here that hasn’t gotten spoiled,” 16-year-old Villarreal wrote on Twitter.
Power lines fall and water lines break
In Kentucky, parts of which had several inches snow by Wednesday night, had more than 70,000 power outages, thanks in part to ice storms and snow earlier in the week.
In eastern Kentucky’s Montgomery County, James Mitchell’s house lost electricity twice this week.
“It was 52 (degrees) in the house when we left (Tuesday) morning, so it was pretty cold, but stayed fine underneath the covers,” he told CNN affiliate WLEX.
Some eastern Kentucky residents still might not have electricity by week’s end, Gov. Andy Beshear said. That’s because crews have a lot of work to do to repair power lines damaged by the ice storm earlier this week, state emergency management official Michael Dossett said.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, more than 100 water main and service line breaks were reported Tuesday due to freezing conditions, according to the Waterline Break Board on the City of Tulsa’s website.
“Water line breaks in Tulsa are creating dangerous conditions,” Tulsa police tweeted with a photo of a parked patrol car that became stuck when a water line broke and the water froze around the vehicle’s wheels.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said he would declare a state of emergency ahead of icy weather.
“People need to be ready to stay home and be prepared to lose power for a while, especially in the northern, western and Piedmont counties,” he said.
A strong winter storm in the Northwest, meanwhile, has left more than 145,000 utility customers in Oregon without power as of Wednesday morning. Portland General Electric said late Tuesday at least 8,493 were power lines were down and at least four substations were out.
“A series of historic storms has hit our communities, bringing three waves of snow, ice and wind. As each storm rolls in, more ice builds up on trees and power lines, that causes more and more trees and power lines to fall,” the company said.
Travel conditions have also led to thousands of canceled flights involving at least one US airport, according to FlightAware.com.
Weather delays Covid-19 vaccinations
Difficult weather is delaying shipments of Covid-19 vaccines in many parts of the country – and that, as well as poor local weather conditions, are causing numerous vaccination sites to postpone appointments.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he believed his city would temporarily “run out” of doses by Thursday, at least in part because of weather-related shipment delays.
Nationwide, “shipping partners are working to deliver vaccine where possible … but the adverse weather is expected to continue to impact shipments” out of the FedEx facility in Memphis, Tennessee, and the UPS operation in Louisville, Kentucky, “which serve as vaccine shipping hubs for multiple states,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said Wednesday.
CNN’s Christina Zdanowicz, Alisha Ebrahimji, Judson Jones, Dave Hennen, Michael Guy, Andy Rose, Artemis Moshtaghian, Chris Boyette and Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.