AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Winter weather brought ice to a wide swath of the United States on Tuesday, causing the cancellation of more than 1,600 flights nationwide, bringing traffic to a standstill on an interstate through Arkansas and knocking out power to thousands of Texans.
As the ice storm advanced eastward on Tuesday, watches and warnings stretched from the western heel of Texas all the way to West Virginia. Several rounds 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.
Numerous auto collisions were reported in Austin, Texas, 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 crashes about every three minutes since 8 a.m., according to the Austin-Travis County Traffic Report Page.
More than 700 flights to or from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and more than 250 to or from Dallas Love Field were canceled or delayed Tuesday, according to the tracking service FlightAware. At Dallas-Fort Worth, a major U.S. airport hub, more than 40% of the flights had been canceled.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 500 flights and delayed more than 250 more, FlightAware reported.
About 7,000 power outages in Texas were reported as of late Tuesday morning, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said following a briefing in Austin on the worsening conditions. He emphasized the outages were due to factors such as ice on power lines or downed trees, and not the performance of the Texas power grid that buckled for days during a deadly winter storm in 2021.
Fleets of emergency vehicles were fanned out among 1,600 roads impacted by the freeze.
One Texas state trooper was hospitalized with serious injuries after being struck by a driver who lost control of their vehicle, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“The roadways are very hazardous right now. We cannot overemphasize that,” Abbott said.
In Arkansas, Interstate 40 Tuesday morning was ice-coated and “extremely hazardous” in the Forrest City area, according to the city’s fire department. Pictures posted on social media showed the crumpled cab of a semi-trailer.
The department responded to two bad wrecks and about 15 other crashes Tuesday morning, Division Chief Jeremy Sharp said by telephone. In many of the crashes, the drivers pick up speed on the highway but run into trouble when they reach a bridge, he said.
“They hit the ice and they start wrecking,” he said.
“When I-40 shuts down like that, that 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 that freezes over due to its slight elevation.”
By late Tuesday morning, I-40 was cleared and traffic had 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 wintry precipitation through Wednesday across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.
“Generally light to moderate freezing rain resulting in some pretty significant ice amounts,” Chenard said.
“We’re expecting ice accumulations potentially a quarter inch or higher as far south as Austin, Texas, up to Dallas over to Little Rock, Arkansas, towards Memphis, Tennessee, and even getting close to Nashville, Tennessee,” according to Chenard.
The flight disruptions follow Southwest’s meltdown in December that began with a winter storm but continued after most other airlines had recovered. Southwest canceled about 16,700 flights over the last 10 days of the year, and the U.S. Transportation Department is investigating.
The weather service has issued a winter storm warning for a large swath of Texas and parts of southeastern Oklahoma and an ice storm warning across the midsection of Arkansas into western Tennessee.
A winter weather advisory is in place in much of the remainder of Arkansas and Tennessee and into much of Kentucky, West Virginia and southern parts of Indiana and Ohio.
Schools and colleges in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas planned to close or go to virtual learning Tuesday.
Martin reported from Woodstock, Georgia. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; and David Koenig in Dallas contributed.