AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Winter weather brought ice to a large swath of the United States on Tuesday, causing more than 1,700 flight cancellations nationwide, blocking traffic on an interstate through Arkansas, and causing crashes that they seriously injured two Texas law officers.
As the ice storm progressed east Tuesday, advisories and warnings extended from the western heel of Texas into West Virginia. Several cycles of mixed precipitation, including freezing rain and sleet, were in store for many areas through Wednesday, meaning some regions could be hit multiple times, the Federal Weather Prediction Center warned.
Multiple car collisions were reported in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, with at least one fatality, according to the Austin Fire Department. In Travis County, Texas, which includes Austin, police and sheriff’s deputies have been responding to new incidents about every three minutes since 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Austin-Travis County Traffic Report page.
More than 900 flights to or from major U.S. airport hub Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and more than 250 to or from Dallas Love Field were canceled or delayed on Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware. In Dallas-Fort Worth, more than 50 percent of Tuesday’s scheduled flights had been canceled by Tuesday afternoon.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines canceled more than 560 flights on Tuesday and delayed more than 350, FlightAware reported.
About 7,000 power outages in Texas were reported late Tuesday morning, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said after a briefing in Austin on worsening conditions. He stressed that the outages were due to factors such as ice on power lines or downed trees, not the performance of the Texas power grid which sagged for days during a deadly winter storm in 2021.
Fleets of emergency vehicles were fanned out across the 1,600 roads affected by the freeze.
In Texas, a sheriff’s deputy who stopped to help the driver of an 18-wheeler as he pulled off an icy highway Tuesday was hit by a second truck that pinned him under one of his tires, according to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. About 45 minutes after the crash on State Highway 130, the congressman was extricated from the wreckage and taken to the hospital, where he underwent surgery Tuesday afternoon, officials said. The deputy is expected to survive, officials said.
In another wreck, a Texas state trooper was hospitalized with serious injuries after being struck by a driver who lost control of his vehicle, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“The roads are very dangerous right now. We can’t overstate that,” Abbott said.
As ice and sleet enveloped Memphis, Tennessee, Memphis-Shelby County schools announced they will cancel classes Wednesday due to freezing rain and dangerous road conditions. The school system has about 100,000 students. The University of Memphis said it will announce plans for Wednesday classes by 6 am tomorrow.
In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency Tuesday over the ice storm. In her statement, Sanders cited the “probability of numerous downed power lines” and said road conditions had created a backlog of deliveries from commercial drivers.
On Tuesday, a major thoroughfare through Arkansas, Interstate 40, was iced and “extremely dangerous” in the Forrest City area, according to the city’s fire department. Images posted on social media showed the crumpled cab of a semi-trailer.
The department responded to two major crashes and about 15 other crashes Tuesday morning, division chief Jeremy Sharp said by phone. In many of the crashes, drivers pick up speed on the highway but get into trouble when they reach a bridge, he said.
“They hit the ice and started shredding,” he said.
“When I-40 closes like that, it can be hours of waiting,” said John Gadberry, who lives in Colt, Arkansas, not far from the highway. “I-40 is usually one of the first things to freeze due to its slight elevation.”
Late Tuesday morning, I-40 was cleared and traffic resumed, the Arkansas Department of Transportation announced. The interstate connects Little Rock, Arkansas to Memphis, Tennessee.
The storm began Monday as part of an expected “several rounds” of winter precipitation through Wednesday in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.
“Generally light to moderate freezing rains, resulting in quite significant amounts of ice,” Chenard said.
“We expect accumulations of potentially a quarter-inch or more of ice as far south as Austin, Texas, as far south as Dallas as far as Little Rock, Arkansas, toward Memphis, Tennessee, and even as close as Nashville, Tennessee,” according to Chenard.
The flight disruptions follow Southwest’s December meltdown, which began with a winter storm but continued after most other airlines had recovered. Southwest has canceled about 16,700 flights in the last 10 days of the year, and the US Department of Transportation is investigating.
The Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for a large swathe of Texas and parts of southeastern Oklahoma and an ice storm warning across central Arkansas in western Tennessee.
A winter weather advisory is in effect across much of the rest of Arkansas and Tennessee and much of Kentucky, West Virginia, and southern parts of Indiana and Ohio.
Schools and colleges in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas planned to close or switch to virtual learning on Tuesday.
Martin reported from Woodstock, Georgia. Associated Press writer Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Adrian Sainz in Memphis; and David Koenig in Dallas contributed.