Monday’s storm was notable for its enormous reach and for a particularly perilous element it brought nearly everywhere: ice. It left a treacherous varnish on roads across a midsection of the country, including places where driving on ice is a rarity.
It was also as confounding a storm as it was punishing. Snow blanketed Gulf of Mexico beaches and people went ice sledding on the roads of southern Louisiana. Alabama was warned of brutal ice storms in some places and of possible tornado outbreaks in others. Temperatures were lower in Austin, Texas, than in Anchorage, Alaska.
“It’s snowing in Houston and it’s going to be raining in Pennsylvania,” said Charles Ross, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, Pa. “When does that ever happen?”
Texas was blanketed by one of its largest snowfalls on record and grappling with hundreds of thousands of power outages, flight cancellations and urgent warnings from government leaders and emergency supervisors to stay put and reduce electric consumption. The 8 degrees recorded in Austin was the lowest in 32 years, forecasters said, and the 6.4 inches of snow dumped on the city overnight was reported to be the deepest in 55 years.
Across the country, at least 20 people have died since winter weather began wreaking havoc last week. Ten people were killed in car crashes on Kentucky and Texas roads, including a pileup in Fort Worth, attributed to slippery roads, that involved more than 100 vehicles and killed six people. And the authorities in San Antonio said that weather conditions contributed to the death of a 78-year-old man.
In Houston, a woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was left running in a garage to generate heat, the police said Tuesday. A homeless man was also found dead at an overpass. In Sugar Land, Texas, a grandmother and three children were killed in a house fire early Tuesday in a neighborhood that was without power, according to local news reports.
A man in Louisiana died after slipping on the ice and hitting his head, officials said, and a 10-year-old boy died in Tennessee after falling into an icy pond.
The brutal cold in the middle of the country seemed to defy a trend of ever-milder winters, but research suggests that frigid temperatures in Texas could be a consequence of global warming, a phenomenon that has prompted the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe to use the phrase “global weirding.”
There is research suggesting that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the northern latitudes and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex. This allows 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.
“For the love of goodness, please stay home,” the Tennessee Highway Patrol said on Twitter on Monday afternoon. “It is very bad out here!!!! Another injury crash. The roads are white!!!!”
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