Authorities in Texas responded to hundreds of accident-related calls Tuesday as an ice storm wreaks havoc on the roads and threatens parts of the South and central US with ice and sleet for at least another day.
The icy weather disrupted daily life for thousands across parts of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee, with freezing rain making roads slick, sending cars sliding and prompting officials to urge residents to stay home. School districts shut down classes in parts of Mississippi and Tennessee, and at least one healthcare system in Texas closed down its clinics amid the dangerous conditions.
Freezing rain, sleet and accumulating ice over the coming day are likely to not only make the roads more dangerous, but also cause tree damage and power outages across the Mid-South, the National Weather Service warned.
“Please proceed with extreme caution especially on overpasses and bridges if you must travel,” the service said Tuesday evening.
One person died Tuesday morning in a 10-car pileup in south Austin, Texas, the city’s fire department said. In the Dallas-area city of Arlington, a second person was killed when their vehicle rolled over, police said.
Northeast of Austin, two people involved in a multivehicle collision along state Highway 130 were taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries after going over the side of an overpass bridge, county emergency medical services said. One of the victims had exited their vehicle before being struck by a car and thrown off the bridge, Capt. Darren Noak said, while the other saw a vehicle sliding toward them and jumped off the bridge to avoid being hit.
Austin Police responded to more than 200 collision calls Tuesday, the department said on Twitter.
FOLLOW LIVE UPDATES: Millions in the South and central US brace for ice storm
Road conditions in parts of Texas could remain treacherous for some time. Another round of heavy and widespread freezing rain is expected after midnight Wednesday, the National Weather Service’s office for the Austin and San Antonio areas said.
In Dallas, responders dealt with more than 140 vehicle accidents in 24 hours by 7 a.m. Tuesday, the city’s fire-rescue department said. In roughly the same period, Medstar EMS crews in north Texas also responded to more than 140 accidents and helped eight people who were suffering from hypothermia and nine others injured after slipping on ice.
More than 30 million under weather alerts
More than 30 million people from New Mexico to West Virginia are under some type of winter weather alert into Wednesday, with Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee taking the brunt of the storm Tuesday afternoon.
In particular, an ice storm warning – meaning ice accumulations of more than a quarter-inch is expected – covered parts of northern Texas and much of Arkansas, northwestern Mississippi and western Tennessee on Tuesday evening.
A number of school districts across western Tennessee and northwestern Mississippi announced they will be closed Wednesday, including Memphis Shelby County Schools, which said all before and after school activities were also postponed.
The heaviest ice accumulation is forecast across large portions of Texas, which could see one- to three-quarters of an inch through Thursday morning.
In Dallas, the Parkland Health system announced all clinics would remain closed through Wednesday as dangerous weather conditions continued.
In parts of Arkansas, forecasters predict up to half an inch of ice accumulation, warning of travel disruptions and power outages. The weather service in Little Rock said the ice storm warning extended through Thursday at noon, with more freezing rain on the way Wednesday.
In Tennessee, much of Memphis was covered with sleet by Tuesday afternoon as another round of freezing rain and more sleet was moving in in the evening, the National Weather Service said.
Most power outages were reported in Texas Tuesday night, with more than 31,000 customers out, according to poweroutage.us.
The storm conditions have also prompted more than 1,900 cancellations within, into, or out of the US, including more than 700 flights departing from Texas airports, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.
And more than 4,500 flights within, into, or out of the US have been delayed, according to the website.
What to expect next
Here’s what to expect Tuesday evening into Wednesday.
• Significant freezing rain will impact parts of Arkansas, western and central Tennessee and northwest Mississippi Tuesday evening and is expected to weaken by early Wednesday morning.
• Another round of freezing rain will impact western and central Texas late Tuesday and into Wednesday, lasting through Wednesday night.
• Forecasters in Austin and the San Antonio area say they’re expecting the “worst of this storm” in the early morning hours of Wednesday. Most areas in the region are expected to see around or below freezing temperatures.
• Southern Oklahoma is also expecting another round of wintry rain Wednesday, with ice accumulations of up to an inch expected in the southern part of the state.
Most areas are expected to see winter storm effects diminish and temperatures begin to rise by Thursday.
Dangerous roads and canceled flights
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday urged residents to stay home, saying about 1,600 roads across the Lone Star State had been impacted by the storm and will remain dangerous for the next 24 to 48 hours.
Authorities in Travis County – which includes the city of Austin – reported that a sheriff’s deputy was injured Tuesday morning and required surgery after attempting to help with a weather-related vehicle collision.
The deputy pulled over to help the driver of an 18-wheeler that was disabled after going off the roadway, according to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. As the deputy helped that driver, another 18-wheeler slid on ice on the roadway and struck the deputy, pinning him “beneath one of its tractor tires,” the release said.
He was taken to a hospital, where he was undergoing surgery, and is expected to survive his injuries, the sheriff’s office said.
Overall, 14 state agencies were responding to road conditions, the Texas governor said, with nearly 4,000 personnel and more than 2,500 pieces of equipment. The Texas National Guard is prepared across the state to assist stranded motorists, clear roadways and provide welfare checks, Abbott added, and Texas Parks and Wildlife has at least 30 responders preparing for search and rescue operations.
Meanwhile, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, said it expected to “meet forecasted demand” – a signal the utility, which accounts for about 90% of the state’s electricity, aims to avoid a repeat of the massive power outages that left millions freezing for days during a winter storm two years ago.
In Arkansas, the governor declared a state of emergency Monday and activated the winter weather support teams of the state’s National Guard to be prepared to help respond to the storm.
“I encourage Arkansans who are experiencing winter weather to avoid travel if possible and heed the warnings of local officials,” Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter.
The emergency order directs $250,000 toward discretionary use by the head of the state’s Division of Emergency Management to provide funding for program and administrative costs, the order stated.
“The real enemy is going to be that ice,” said Dave Parker, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Transportation.
CNN’s Joe Sutton, Aya Elamroussi, Chris Boyette, Tina Burnside, Joe Sutton and Raja Razek contributed to this report. CNN Meteorologists Rob Shackelford and Derek Van Dam also contributed.