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A sprawling winter storm continued to sweep across the country on Monday, knocking out power for millions of people as it dumped snow and ice in places where such perilously frigid conditions tend to arrive just once in a generation.
Officials in several states urged residents to stay home, avoiding highways and roads that had become treacherous as they were glazed by ice. Cars and trucks were sent skidding into one another and off the pavement entirely, prompting law enforcement officers to respond to hundreds of calls.
“We did not make it through almost a year of a pandemic to lose people to a snow or ice storm,” Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said at a briefing on Monday.
In all, roughly 150 million Americans were under some form of winter storm warning. Snow coated the sand on Gulf Coast beaches, and enough had fallen in El Paso for children to go sledding. It was colder in some parts of West Texas on Monday than it was in Anchorage, Alaska.
Below Freezing Temperatures in Nearly Every State
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Still, in many places, the rarity of such conditions created an added layer of inconvenience and danger. Officials in Mississippi said they did not have heavy-duty plows for their trucks to clear highways because the state so rarely needs them. Videos shared online from across the region showed cars careening out of control and residents slipping on ice that they had little practice navigating.
Texas was bombarded by the worst winter onslaught it has seen in decades, with one of the largest snowfalls on record in many areas. The storm grounded flights and left more than 2 million residents to endure the cold without electricity.
Across the country, at least 11 people have died since the storm intensified in the middle of last week; ten have been killed in car crashes on Texas and Kentucky roads, and there has been at least one unconfirmed death from cold weather exposure in San Antonio.
Forecasters expect the storm to push into the Northeast by Monday evening, leaving a span of the country reaching from Ohio into New England to contend with ice and heavy snow. Some isolated places could get up to a foot of snow by Wednesday.
In Tennessee, sleet and freezing rain that began falling on Sunday turned into snow by Monday afternoon, and temperatures plunged, with a low of 9 degrees forecast on Tuesday. More snow was also predicted for later in the week.
The authorities said that crews were at work trying to clear ice-slicked roadways for emergency vehicles and drivers with an urgent need to hit the road. The State Highway Patrol in Nashville said that troopers had responded to well over 100 calls.
“For the love of goodness, please stay home,” the agency said in a Twitter post on Monday afternoon. “It is very bad out here!!!! Another injury crash. The roads are white!!!!”
The storm was expected to continue its punishing march across the United States on Tuesday, bringing snow, sleet and freezing rain to the Northeast, while the central part of the country braced for several more days of record low temperatures and continued power failures.
The National Weather Service warned that millions of Americans from coast to coast would remain under winter storm warnings, ice storm warnings, winter storm watches and winter weather advisories.
The storm system was expected to pummel a wide belt of the Ohio Valley, the Great Lakes and the Northeast with heavy snow and ice on Tuesday, while dumping freezing rain across much of the Eastern Seaboard. Florida and Georgia could be lashed by severe thunderstorms and heavy rain, the Weather Service said.
Even as the system lifted north, forecasters warned that frigid air and dangerously cold wind chills would continue to grip the Great Plains and the Mississippi Valley until at least Friday morning. The brutal cold has led officials in many states to urge residents to stay home and avoid highways and roads glazed in ice.
And while those cold temperatures linger, a second storm system was expected to move from the Rockies into the Southern Plains and the Lower Mississippi Valley on Tuesday and Wednesday, spreading heavy snow.
Snow totals for the Central and Southern Rockies could range from eight to 12 inches, with one to two feet possible over the highest peaks on Tuesday. Four to eight inches of snow was likely to blanket much of Oklahoma, Arkansas and southern Missouri starting Tuesday night through Wednesday, while freezing rain may coat eastern Texas and northern Louisiana on Tuesday.
The storms could bring more power failures across the country. At least a dozen states — from New Jersey to Oregon — had reported outages on Monday evening, with Texas reporting more than 3.5 million, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates live power data from utilities across the United States.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Monday that the state had deployed “maximum resources” to respond to the severe weather and to restore power to communities. Among those resources were National Guard troops, who were called up to conduct welfare checks and to help those in need move to one of the state’s 135 warming centers.
In Oregon, more than 300,000 residents were without power on Monday evening, Gov. Kate Brown said. “Utility outages are more widespread in the region than ever before, including during the September 2020 wildfires,” she said on Twitter, noting that she had declared a state of emergency on Saturday to mobilize help.
It was colder across much of Texas on Monday than it was in Maine.
Houston hit a record low for a Feb. 15 of 17 degrees, breaking the previous record of 18 degrees, set in 1905. In Austin, it was just 8 degrees, breaking the previous record of 20 degrees, set in 1909. Records for the date also fell in San Antonio (9 degrees) and Dallas (7 degrees).
And the frigid blast shows no signs of letting up. The National Weather Service warned that arctic air and dangerous wind chills would remain over the central part of the United States this week, breaking even more records.
The brutal cold, especially in the South, has prompted officials to urge residents to stay home and avoid icy roads. Texas officials, concerned about millions who have lost power, have opened warming centers and deployed National Guard troops to check on residents.
In the Houston area alone, about one million people were without power on Monday night, which was expected to be the coldest night in 30 years, with temperatures falling to 10 degrees.
“To those who have lost power, I know you are frustrated, I know you’re miserable, I know you’re uncomfortable,” Lina Hidalgo, the top public executive of Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, told residents on Monday.
Yet Ms. Hidalgo said it was not possible to predict when power might be restored.
“And in fact, as much as we wish it weren’t so, things will likely get worse before they get better,” she said. “There’s a high chance the power will be out for these folks until the weather gets better, which will not be for a couple of days.”
Houston emergency management officials offered tips to help residents stay warm, even without power. They suggested using duct tape, blankets and towels to cover windows and blocking doorways with towels to stop icy drafts.
Houston fire officials said they had responded to an increase in carbon monoxide poisonings, as residents turned to generators and space heaters to stay warm. They urged residents to make sure they had installed carbon monoxide detectors.
The bitter cold has broken records that had stood for decades, from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast. In Hibbing, Minn., on Monday, the temperature plunged to minus 38 degrees, beating the previous record of minus 32, set in 1939.
In North Platte, Neb., it was minus 29, dipping below the previous record of minus 23 set more than a century ago, in 1881. In Oklahoma City, it was minus 6, also a record.
“I’m very pleased that it seems as if the people of Oklahoma City are largely staying home,” the city’s mayor, David Holt, said. “That was obviously what we hoped they would do. And we continue to make that request. That is probably the best bet.”
The Southwest Power Pool has ordered member electric utilities in 14 states to start controlled rolling cutoffs of electric service because the demand for power in the region, driven upward by the bitter cold, is overwhelming the available generation, hampered by the storm.
“This is an unprecedented event and marks the first time S.P.P. has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” Lanny Nickell, the power pool’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “It’s a last resort that we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it’s a step we’re consciously taking to prevent circumstances from getting worse.”
Most of the outages will last about an hour and will cut power to a few thousand customers at a time. They are necessary to limit demand and “safeguard the reliability of the regional grid,” Mr. Nickell said. An outage in Oklahoma that began shortly after noon affected about 6,000 customers.
The power pool, based in Little Rock, Ark., manages the electric grid that links utilities in all of Oklahoma and Kansas and parts of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico. Most of that region has been affected by the winter storm or by the frigid Arctic air mass that has driven the storm south.
The statement said the power pool was forced to begin relying on reserve energy sources at 10:08 a.m. Central Time on Monday, and it issued the controlled outage order when the reserves were exhausted a few hours later. It said it had been steadily stepping up warnings to conserve power since Feb. 9.
Each member utility would decide for itself how, where and when to cut off power to customers to achieve the necessary reductions, the statement said.
Utilities belonging to the main grid operating authority in Texas, which connects with the Southwest Power Pool, began imposing rolling outages overnight because of the storm.
As bitterly cold temperatures break records and spread dangerous wintry conditions, the storm sprawling from coast to coast was expected to move into the Ohio Valley from the Gulf Coast on Monday, and then continue to the Northeast, the National Weather Service said.
The “unprecedented and expansive area of hazardous winter weather” was expected to bring major to extreme impacts from southeast Texas to northern Ohio, the National Weather Service said, with snow, ice and freezing rain causing travel disruptions and unsafe conditions across the country.
“It’s a pretty sprawled-out system,” said Michael J. Ventrice, a meteorological scientist with IBM. “We’re seeing snowfall in eastern Texas, and a wintry mix of snow, freezing rain, sleet, etc., all the way up through parts of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes this morning.”
The heaviest snowfall will develop in the Ohio Valley, Mr. Ventrice said, while sleet or freezing rain will predominate in the Mid-Atlantic States.
Six to 12 inches of snow was expected on Monday across an area stretching from the Ohio Valley and eastern Great Lakes to northern New England, the National Weather Service said.
South of the snow, a band of sleet and freezing rain will stretch from East Texas to southern New England, where a 10th of an inch of ice was predicted. As much as a half-inch of ice was forecast for parts of the lower Mississippi Valley. In the Southeast, where temperatures will remain warmer, the storm will probably produce nothing but rain.
While southern and eastern Alabama may largely get rain, the northwestern part of the state may get the most severe ice storm conditions seen there in two or three decades, said Kurt Weber, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville.
“It doesn’t take much ice, only a glaze, to cause big problems on roads,” he said, “especially when you’re not used to driving in it.” But the forecast calls for a much thicker coating than a glaze, he said, with over a half-inch of ice possible, making it difficult to address power failures quickly.
The worst of the storm’s ice may fall in central Pennsylvania, where high-resolution forecast models have predicted nearly an inch — “which is quite impressive and could cause significant impact,” Mr. Ventrice said.
Though the snow and wintry mix in the southern Plains states was expected to end by late Monday morning, the “bitterly cold temperatures will limit the amount of melting today, and thus treacherous travel conditions are likely to persist,” the National Weather Service said.
Bitter temperatures were expected to persist from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians through Tuesday, with readings 25 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit below normal for this time of year, the National Weather Service said.
As the storm tracks toward the Northeast, warmer temperatures will creep in behind it and change the snow in some areas to rain. “It’s going to get all the elements in this one,” Mr. Ventrice said.
Many places have set record low temperatures, including 26 below zero in Sioux Falls, S.D., the National Weather Service said. Hundreds more new daily records were expected to be set by the end of the week.
And another storm is on its way. A frontal system, accompanied by moisture from the Pacific, was expected to make landfall on Monday, bringing more wintry weather. “This storm system is expected to be the next winter storm to impact the South Central U.S. midweek,” the National Weather Service said.
The winter storm was expected to pummel a large portion of New York State, with heavy snow moving along the Great Lakes into Tuesday morning, Dave Samuhel, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said.
Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse could all get a foot or more of snow, with the hardest-hit areas in the region getting up to 18 inches, Mr. Samuhel said.
New York City might not get any snow, but the forecast called for freezing rain that could cause hazardous road conditions. As temperatures warm up overnight, the rain is expected to get heavier.
“It’s a quick moving but high impact storm because of the heavy nature of the precipitation,” Mr. Samuhel said.
In response to the storm, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo directed state agencies on Monday afternoon to make emergency snow and ice preparations. State officials warned that travel conditions could become “extremely difficult at times.”
“This massive weather system is making its way across the country and ready to deliver a one-two punch of snow, ice and heavy winds across the entire state for the next two days,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. Adding that conditions could become “extremely dangerous,” Mr. Cuomo advised New Yorkers to “avoid all unnecessary travel.”
State officials said they were prepared to deploy emergency resources including pumps, chain saws, sandbags, generators, cots, blankets and bottled water if conditions turn bad enough.
The storm is taking a heavy toll on electric service in Texas. An estimated 2.6 million homes and businesses in the state had their power interrupted Sunday night and Monday morning because of storm damage or in rotating outages ordered by regulators.
Many of the interruptions were fairly short, lasting between 15 and 45 minutes, but some customers have lost power for hours and are unsure when it will be back on.
Part of the problem arose when wind turbines in West Texas became frozen. Roughly half of the state’s wind generating capacity was knocked offline, shutting off as much as 10,500 megawatts of wind power, a significant chunk of the state’s total electricity supply. Authorities were expected to de-ice the turbines through the day.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s power grid, said in a statement that the rotating outages were a “last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”
The outages began at about 1:25 a.m., affecting different areas at different times, and could continue through the day.
The council ordered local utilities to begin the outages to conserve power because of high demand and the loss of generating capacity. That action is usually kept as a last resort for extreme heat waves in the summer, when consumers turn their air-conditioners way up. The last time such an order was issued in the winter was in February 2011.
Monday’s wind power loss alone affected 2 million customers. But the problems deepened as other generating sources also experienced cold- and storm-related problems and were taken off line. All told, the state was missing as much as 30,000 megawatts of generating capacity at times on Monday. Among the companies that reported contending with power losses was the Houston Chronicle, which reported disruptions at its printing facility.
“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” said Bill Magness, the chief executive of the council.
“Please do your best to stay warm safely,” Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston wrote on Twitter early Monday. “We will get through this together.”
A low of 12 degrees and a few inches of snow would not be unusual for mid-February in plenty of American cities. But in San Antonio, it’s unheard-of.
“People don’t feel safe going out,” said George Osorio, 29, the front desk manager at the O’Brien Hotel near the city’s Riverwalk. “San Antonians are not used to this weather. We have guests from Wisconsin, and they find it funny, because this is warm for them.”
The path of the winter storm sweeping across the country includes many places where the worst of winter usually comes as a glancing blow, meaning that the storm is punishing them with a surprising intensity.
In Mississippi, officials told residents that they would probably need to stay off the roads at least until Tuesday. They cautioned that the local authorities there were not as well equipped for the wintry conditions as those in Northern states are.
“We have some plows on our trucks, but it’s not the kind like you have up North that is really designed to put weight on that plow and dig down and get it off of the roadway,” said Melinda McGrath, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation. “We do not invest in those, because this only occurs like once every five years or so.”
The Gulf Coast in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi is quite familiar with brutal weather in the form of hurricanes, floods and thick summer heat. But single-digit temperatures and ice-slicked roads are something entirely different.
For many, the weather over the weekend rekindled memories of an ice storm in 1997 that was among the worst on record in parts of Texas and Louisiana. That storm snapped trees, damaged and destroyed homes and knocked out power for days, leaving residents to bundle up without heat.
Rural areas have been hit hard by the weather and the power outages it is causing. In Gillespie County, about 75 miles west of Austin, some households haven’t had electricity since Thursday, when ice and freezing rain first began to pelt the region. In addition to losing heat, lights, and energy for cooking, many rural homes have also been left without water, since electricity is needed to operate the wells they depend on.
Denise Britt of Cedar Park, an Austin suburb, said her elderly parents live in Gillespie County and were among those whose homes were left totally powerless. They decided to take their chances on the icy roads and drive 15 miles to Fredericksburg, she said, to take refuge in a hotel. After their car skidded into a ditch, a neighbor gave them a lift the rest of the way.
“They’re in dire straits out there,” Ms. Britt said of her parents’ rural county. “It’s an historic winter storm, nothing anybody is prepared for.”
Rick Rojas, James Dobbins, Sarah Fowler and
The gigantic winter storm that swept across the south and central states on Monday paralyzed air, rail and road travel across the region, with severe travel disruptions certain to continue into Tuesday as the storm churns its way north.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport canceled 196 flights on Monday, accounting for nearly all flights in and out of the transportation hub, according to the tracking website FlightAware. The Austin airport tweeted on Monday that teams would remain on-site, “mitigating the impacts of this historic weather.”
At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, there were 934 canceled flights by Monday evening, and almost 300 others were delayed, according to FlightAware. The airport said on Twitter that more delays and cancellations were expected on Tuesday, and urged the public to check the status of their flight with their airline before heading to the airport.
All rail operations operated by Dallas Area Rapid Transit will be suspended until Thursday, and bus services in the city will be suspended starting Monday night, resuming on Tuesday with what is likely to be additional delays, the transit system said. In Houston, George Bush Intercontinental Airport said that the airfield would be closed until at least Tuesday early afternoon.
The Nashville International Airport canceled 278 flights on Monday, according to FlightAware, and the airport said delays and additional cancellations appeared certain on Tuesday. There were fewer flight interruptions at the sprawling Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport, one of the country’s busiest hubs, with just 213 cancellations.
The storm forced road closures in parts of Louisiana, including in the Lafayette and Baton Rouge areas, while in Tennessee, the authorities closed about 20 roads just south of Nashville, in Williamson County, because of slick conditions, according to the Tennessean.
The authorities in many states asked people to avoid driving except for absolutely essential travel. “We all see the current situation, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The next few days are going to be very tough,” Judge Lina Hidalgo of Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, said at a news conference on Monday afternoon. “Things will likely get worse before they get better.”
On Monday, Cheryl Rodriguez and her husband woke up to heaps of snow outside of their house, nestled in a neighborhood cul-de-sac in Conroe, Texas, about 40 miles north of Houston.
“This is just awesome — we haven’t seen this,” said Ms. Rodriguez, who has lived in the area for almost 50 years. “It’s just beautiful, and it’s fun to hear your feet crunch in the snow.”
Though the snow was an unusual experience for the couple, the power failures were all too familiar. This past hurricane season, storms ravaged parts of the South, particularly in Louisiana, and affected Texas’ power grids.
A winter storm warning is in effect for the Conroe area until Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service, and rolling power outages have been ongoing throughout Texas.
Across the state, at least 2.8 million customers had lost power, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates data from utilities across the country. In an interview with ABC13, Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston said: “Don’t expect the power to come back in on in hour or so. It might be the rest of the day, if not longer.”
Houston set a record low temperature of 17 degrees, the National Weather Service said, beating the former record of 18 degrees from 1905.
After taking a small walk around her home, Ms. Rodriguez said she planned to spend the day inside quilting and swapping her Valentine’s Day decorations for the upcoming Easter season, and avoiding driving.
Recalling an earlier experience driving in icy conditions, Ms. Rodriguez said, “Every time I put on the brakes, it felt like I was going to skid off the road.” She added, “we’re just not equipped here for that.”
The couple’s black Labrador retriever, Angel, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the snow, although she did seem apprehensive at first.
“When we took her out this morning, she put her paws on that snow and she immediately withdrew her paws real quick,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “Then all of sudden she just took off in that snow and just started running back and forth, back and forth across the back yard.”
Ms. Rodriguez said she’s grateful their home has gas so they’re able to use their stove and fireplace, although she said: “I wish I had a generator. In fact after this, I may end up putting one in my house.”
Recent multiple-vehicle pileups amid this year’s brutal weather have underscored the dangers of driving in winter conditions. In 28 hours last week, from early Thursday to Friday morning, the Iowa State Patrol received calls for help at 195 crashes. In Texas, six people were killed and dozens were hospitalized on Thursday in a pileup that involved more than 100 vehicles on Interstate 35.
In both states, the authorities had issued warnings about hazardous driving conditions. Drivers in Texas were confronted with slick roads and patches of ice. An Arctic front that sped across Iowa enveloped vehicles in a wintry mess of freezing rain, snow and ice.
Experts offer these tips on driving safely in winter weather:
Heed travel advisories, and avoid driving in inclement weather if at all possible.
If a driver sees a string of cars and trucks ahead crashing into each other like dominoes, Steve Gent, a traffic safety director in Iowa, has two recommendations. First, tap your brakes. Then, maneuver to avoid. “Take the ditch,” Mr. Gent said. “The worst thing you want to do is slow down and get in the pileup. We design those ditches so you can drive in, and you are not going to flip over.”
Drivers should avoid roadways that do not give them an out, said Will Miller, an analyst with Crash Analysis Consulting in Southlake, Texas. Avoid highways that have barrier walls on both sides, and beware bridges, overpasses and other elevated structures. They freeze more quickly and stay frozen longer than the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises drivers to double-check that they understand how their vehicle’s equipment, such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, will perform in wintry conditions. Experts generally advise against using cruise control when ice or snow patches could crop up.
Andrew Gross, a spokesman for AAA, advised drivers to ensure at least “three seconds of distance between you and the car ahead of you.” That means you should be able to count at least three seconds between when the car ahead of you passes a landmark and when your car passes the same point. Slamming on brakes in ice, snow or rain should be avoided because it can lead to hydroplaning.
The winter storm stretching across much of the country is causing widespread disruption in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine. Clinics where shots were being given have closed and shipments of vaccine have been stalled as snow and ice have grounded flights and turned highways dangerously slick.
Many of the closures and cancellations have been in the South, where the storm was particularly fierce — and where the pace of vaccinations in several states has lagged behind the national average. On Monday, vaccine appointments were rescheduled or canceled from Texas to Kentucky.
The interruptions appear likely to grow in the coming days, as the storm continues its path across the country. More closures already are being announced.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said on Monday that vaccination distribution run by the state would be brought to a halt through the rest of the week.
“Missouri is experiencing severe winter weather that makes driving dangerous and threatens the health and safety of anyone exposed to the cold,” Mr. Parson said in a statement.
In Alabama, hospitals have closed vaccination clinics, as have more than two dozen county health departments. In New Hampshire, state officials said vaccinations would be canceled on Tuesday.
The storm’s impact on vaccine distribution seemed national in scope. Health officials in Washington State, where the storm has come and gone, say they are dialing back vaccination plans later this week because they anticipate delays in the delivery of new doses. Governor Parson of Missouri said that the weather will likely interfere with some vaccine shipments to his state as well.
The notion that the global phenomenon of a hotter planet could be sending a shocking cold wave into the southern United States might seem nonsensical. And every cold snap can be counted on to elicit quips and stunts from those who deny the science of climate change.
But the weather patterns that send freezing air from the polar vortex plunging all the way to the Gulf Coast could, like other forms of extreme weather, be linked to global warming — which is why the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe prefers the phrase “global weirding.”
Winter storms are influenced by many factors, including the natural variability that affects all weather systems. The planet’s warming could be part of that icy blend, even while climate change is making winters milder over all.
The air that usually sits over the Arctic is now sweeping down South because of changes to the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the Northern Hemisphere and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex.
There is research suggesting that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, allowing the cold air to escape to the south, especially when a blast of additional warming strikes the stratosphere and deforms the vortex. The result can be episodes of plunging temperatures, even in places that rarely get nipped by frost.
Of course, bitter cold from the polar vortex has long been a part of the North American weather picture. Dr. Amy Butler, a research scientist at the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory, has said that she has yet to find any long-term trend in polar vortex disruptions, which “occur naturally even in the absence of climate change.”
But Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a company that provides information to clients about weather and climate-related risk, has identified general trends in winter storms. He was an author of a paper last year in the journal Nature Climate Change that found a sharp increase in Northeast winter storms over the decade from 2008 to 2018.
“Severe winter weather is much more frequent when the Arctic is warmest,” Dr. Cohen said, adding, “It’s not in spite of climate change, but related to climate change.”
The current storm “could be one of the most costly natural disasters of the year,” he said, in part because of its unusual geography: “Texas, which is known for hurricanes, is not known for snow and cold damage” like burst water pipes.
With freezing temperatures coming to New Orleans on Monday and lingering during a Mardi Gras subdued by the pandemic, Mayor LaToya Cantrell warned residents to hunker down and prepare to boil their drinking water if water mains were to burst or pipes to freeze.
“We need you to stay home and stay safe,” Mayor Cantrell said during a news conference on Monday.
If a weekend crackdown on Mardi Gras festivities, including the shutdown on all bars, did not convince would-be revelers to keep off the streets, the bone-chilling cold, expected to plunge to 25 degrees on Monday night, might.
City officials warned that standing water on roadways could turn to ice, adding danger for drivers. They also urged homeless people to take refuge in shelters, while seeking to prevent residents from providing sleeping bags or tents to those sleeping on the streets this week.
“Tents hold moisture, so things inside your tents will get wet,” and then freeze, said Sarah A. Babcock, the director of policy and emergency preparedness for the city health department.
A tornado passed through a town in Early County, Ga., on Monday afternoon, and officials were trying to assess the scope of the damage. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources said in a tweet that no fatalities had been reported.
Jasmine Montgomery, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Fla., said the tornado hit just before 5 p.m., though it was not immediately clear how strong it was; reports from the area suggested some damage to homes, she said.
“We could tell on the radar that there was definitely a tornado on the ground, but we won’t be serving the area until tomorrow or the next day, which is when we will have a rating of how strong the storm was,” Ms. Montgomery said.
The National Weather Service in Tallahassee retweeted photos of destruction from the area near Damascus, a town of about 300 people in southern Georgia. The images showed roofs ripped from some homes, windows blown out and trees scattered on top of residences.
Chris Jackson, a storm chaser who was surveying the damage in the Damascus area on Monday, said that he saw at least two or three homes that were absolutely destroyed. “There were no walls left standing,” Mr. Jackson, 36, said in an interview.
Trees were scattered all about, including a towering Hickory tree that had been completely ripped out of the ground. “That’s a big tree,” Mr. Jackson said. “I’ve never seen the entire tree pulled out of the ground, just like a kid picking flowers,” he said.
Before last week, Texas wasn’t much known for dangerous winter weather, or for being well practiced at coping with it. More than 120 accidents were reported on slick roads in and around Houston Sunday night.
Still, some Texans have been embracing the shock of snow, ice and frigid temperatures with the kind of gusto that could only come from the Lone Star State.
“Oh — medium-rare is the way to go,” said Ryan Villanueva, 20 of Weslaco, in the Rio Grande Valley, who shared his wintry grilling technique on Twitter. “If it’s more than well or well done, that’s a piece of rubber.”
Mr. Villanueva was describing the four 1½-inch rib-eye steaks he had just grilled on his barbecue as snow fell all around him Sunday night. “I wanted to cook something nice for my family.”
Starting the fire in the cold was not easy. “It’s a little bit of trouble trying to get it started, because the wind is blowing, you’re there with trembling hands and cold matches that are damp for whatever reason,” he recalled. Mr. Villanueva finally got the fire going with the help of some odorless charcoal lighter fluid. The end result: “It was very good.”
“Lady Bird did not like it,” Victoria Martinez, 26, said of her cat’s response to the snow. But Lady Bird’s partner, LBJ, “wanted to run around the yard,” she said.
“Their personalities are complete opposites,” said Ms. Martinez, who plans to study marriage and family therapy.
Christoph Schittko was in uptown Dallas on Sunday, on his way to a park to go sledding with his wife and son, when a car, and then two skiers, passed them. Mr. Schittko’s reaction: “I was laughing out loud.”
Ian Camfield, a radio broadcaster originally from England, posted a picture of the outdoor swimming pool at his apartment complex in Dallas.
He has a podcast about how much he loves America, and the cold weather has brought inquiries from back home. Mr. Camfield said he had been called by radio stations and friends, asking for dispatches about the snow in Texas. “I think they’re just fascinated with it,” he said.
The purest expression of delight may have come from Maeven Evans, 19 of Lewisville, Texas, about 30 minutes north of Dallas. In a short video, Ms. Evans smiles and lip-syncs the lyrics to a song: “It’s just water.”
“I picked that song,” she said, “because in Texas, if the meteorologist says snow, it usually turns into water.”
This time, it was snow — but it wasn’t the kind you could pack into snowballs, Ms. Evans discovered. No matter: She and her roommate used large plastic container lids to fling the stuff onto one another — a snowball fight without snowballs.
“Just make do with what you have,” she advised her neighbors. “There is no telling when we’ll get snow like this.”
More snow is expected Monday.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cold weather and the nation’s homeless crisis have long been a fatal mix that community advocates and public officials have struggled to address. But this winter, the coronavirus has added a dangerous new complication as cities and community groups wrestle with how to shelter members of a vulnerable population from the elements while not exposing them to an airborne virus that spreads most easily indoors.
The calculation has taken on greater urgency in recent days as arctic weather freezes a large swath of the middle of the country, from Minnesota to Texas, with wind chills expected to dip as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.
Officials in Ramsey County, Minn., which includes St. Paul, have set up shelters in a vacant hospital and a vacant seminary dormitory so that they can better distance homeless residents from one another.
Chicago officials have used former school buildings as well as Salvation Army and Y.M.C.A. locations to give service providers more space for shelter beds.
New Life Center, a nonprofit rescue mission in Fargo, N.D., outfitted an abandoned warehouse to expand its shelter capacity.
And in Kansas City, where the forecast calls for a low of minus 14 degrees on Monday, officials have converted the downtown convention center — the size of eight football fields — into a shelter.
With public spaces like libraries and the dining rooms of many fast food restaurants closed, people experiencing homelessness have fewer places to warm up during the day or use the bathroom. Traditional shelters have had to reduce their capacity for social distancing.
Kansas City typically spends $1.5 million a year on homeless services, according to a city spokesman. But this year, with the help of federal relief funds, it plans to spend $8.5 million on programs that include paying for hotel rooms to house families and providing financial assistance to prevent evictions.
At the urging of local activists, city officials opened a temporary shelter, with a capacity of 65 people, at a community center in mid-January. The number who showed up quickly exceeded that, and city leaders had a difficult call to make.
“We made a collective decision to say, ‘Look, if any one of these people had to spend the night in the street, it’s likely a death sentence,’” said Brian Platt, the city manager. “If they come inside and there’s a possibility of spreading or catching the Covid virus, there’s a greater chance that they could live through that.”
Conditions along the East Coast from the Mid-Atlantic states into the Northeast could get messy in the next few days, according to Dan Petersen, a winter weather forecaster with the National Weather Service. An initial warming trend will be followed by storms and then a return to cold, he said.
The warmth is being drawn up from the Southeast, and on Tuesday “we’re expecting mostly rain up the Washington-Philadelphia corridor,” Mr. Petersen said. “Farther north, that’s expected to come down as sleet and freezing rain.”
Where the line between rain and the more miserable forms of precipitation will be “is our forecast challenge,” he said.
Behind that set of storms for the East Coast will come a cold front, as the Arctic air in the central United States starts “spilling east,” he said. But that front’s temperatures are not expected to be as brutal when they reach the Atlantic as they were in the Plains. “We’re not looking at records here on the East Coast,” he said. “It’s back to winter chill.”
Another round of rain, sleet and freezing rain could flow east later in the week, Mr. Petersen said, with slippery travel conditions. But after that, things will revert “a little closer to what you traditionally think of as a winter weather pattern” — that is, merely cold.
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