MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A late fall cold snap that has gripped much of the country is being blamed for a handful of deaths and has forced people to deal with frigid temperatures, power outages by the thousands and treacherous roads.
Weather forecasters say the powerful weather system has Virginia and the mid-Atlantic in its icy sights next.
Temperatures in Montana and South Dakota were more than 20 degrees below zero during the day Saturday, while much of the Midwest was in the teens and single digits. Wind chill readings could drop as low as 50 below zero in northwestern Minnesota, weather officials said.
Icy conditions were expected to last through the weekend from Texas to Ohio to Tennessee. Virginia officials warned residents of a major ice storm likely to take shape today, resulting in power outages and hazards on the roads.
In California, four people died of hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay area, and about a half-dozen traffic-related deaths were blamed on the weather in several states.
More than 100,000 customers in the Dallas area were without power Saturday, with about 7,000 in Oklahoma and thousands more in other states. About 400 departing flights from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport had been canceled in the morning. About 3,330 passengers had stayed overnight in the terminals.
Icy, treacherous sections of Interstate 35 north of Dallas were closed for hours at a time as tractor-trailers had trouble climbing hills, wrecks occurred and vehicles stalled, authorities said.
Jody Gonzalez, chief of Denton County Emergency Services, said about 200 people were in shelters in the Sanger area after getting stuck on the highway. People in that area of I-35 were driving through ruts in 4-inch-thick ice, he said.
Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Releford said road graders and more sand and salt trucks were being sent to try to ease the ice problems.
We’re sending in everything we’ve got, she said.
Freezing rain and sleet were forecast Saturday night in Memphis, Nashville and other areas of Tennessee before the storm begins its surge northeast.
It looks like we’re going to be stuck with this for one, two, maybe three days, said Memphis attorney Sam Chafetz, who was going home early. I’m not afraid of the ice and snow, I’m afraid of the other drivers who don’t know how to drive in it, Chafetz said.
In Virginia, state Emergency Management spokeswoman Laura Southard said the storm had the potential to be a historic ice event.
This forecast is very concerning to us, Southard said Saturday. I’ve worked multiple disasters, but I’ve never worked an ice storm with a forecast like this. It’s just really important for everybody to take extra precautions.
Looking ahead, the National Weather Service says a wind chill advisory is in effect for parts of northeast Arkansas and the Missouri boot heel. Forecasters say wind chill readings could dip to minus 5 degrees.
Ice had built up on the windshields and roofs of parked cars throughout Memphis into Saturday. Law enforcement reported an increase in traffic crashes, and scattered power outages affected more than 3,000 people, emergency and utility officials said.
Residents were told to prepare for a few days without power, prompting them to rush to stores to stock up on groceries, buy electricity generators and gas up their cars.
Officials reminded residents to check on family and friends who are elderly, disabled or live alone.