As snow and ice continued to wreak havoc across the U.S. into Saturday night, a third of the U.S. was bracing for wintry weather, including subzero temperatures, power outages and icy roads, forecasted to continue through early next week.
More than 100 million people were under a winter weather advisory, the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center said, while snow and ice blanketed the nation coast-to-coast Saturday. Much of Texas was in deep freeze, icy roads caused pileups in Tennessee, and officials in some states warned residents to stay off the roads as much as possible.
“A very active weekend is ahead for winter weather as large parts of the U.S. experience concerns for extreme cold temperatures, heavy snow and ice,” the weather organization said on Twitter. “Coast to coast from the Pacific Northwest to the Mid-Atlantic, there is an array of winter weather headlines in effect. Stay safe!”
Across eight states – including Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia – more than 700,000 people were without power Saturday evening, according to Poweroutage.us.
Ice storm warnings were in effect for portions Oregon, Maryland and Virginia, where accumulations could reach a quarter to a half inch, the NWS said.
“Power outages and tree damage are expected due to the ice. Travel could be nearly impossible. The combination of the icing forecast and the snow and ice already on trees will make for a very dangerous situation,” the NWS said.
The outages in the Northwest could extend for some throughout the weekend, said Elizabeth Lattanner, a spokeswoman for PGE, one of the major electricity providers in the region.
Many ice-laden trees in Oregon snapped under the wintry weight, falling on power lines and causing some transformers to blow out in showers of blue and orange sparks. By noon on Saturday, more than 1,200 PGE power lines were down, Lattanner said.
“The weather that set in yesterday and continued overnight has left extensive damage with hundreds of thousands of Oregonians without power,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown wrote on Twitter, announcing that she had declared a state of emergency across the Portland region in the Willamette Valley,
Las Vegas was dealing with another weather event Saturday afternoon: NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning in the Clark County region, warning of possible wind gusts up to 70 mph, pea sized hail and blowing dust. Multiple power outages were reported throughout the region.
In Nashville, icy roads caused a traffic pile-up involving 21 vehicles and causing at least 12 minor injuries on Interstate 24 Saturday morning, according to the Nashville Metro Police Department. Claudia Arakas, 22, was taking her cat to the vet when she slammed on the breaks, but her car didn’t stop.
“I didn’t have much control, but I took my foot off the gas and tried to do my best to steer. I can’t even tell you how I managed to get out,” Arakas said. “I was watching cars crash in front of me, while also maneuvering – oh my gosh, it was insane.”
The Nashville Fire Department, which dispatched at least 15 emergency vehicles to the pile-up, said multiple motorists were transported to local hospitals. Despite a tense scene that appeared life-threatening, authorities did not report any fatalities.
Brutal winter weather shows no signs of letting up:Snow, ice, bitter cold to continue from coast to coast
The U.S. is enduring one of its busiest winter weather patterns “in decades,” forecasters said Friday. A bitterly cold arctic air mass draped across much of the country is fueling winter storms nationwide. Heavy snow and ice blasted the Pacific Northwest earlier Saturday, and portions of the Plains, the South and the Mid-Atlantic are expected to see more snow and freezing rain into early next week.
A major winter storm is expected to develop over the Southern Plains Sunday into Monday with a large area of snow, sleet, and freezing rain expected, the NWS said. Texas and portions of the South could see record-shattering cold over the next few days. Saturday morning, parts of Texas saw “thundersleet,” the NWS said, warning that heavy freezing rain and sleet were expected to accumulate.
According to Weather.com, the coming storm will bring considerably worse weather conditions than what was seen early Thursday morning in Texas, when at least six people were killed and 65 others hospitalized – including front line health care workers just getting off their shifts – in a massive chain-reaction crash that involved more than 100 vehicles on an icy interstate.
Some of the people injured in the crash were health care workers. One Fort Worth nurse, Rebecca Benson, crawled from her crushed car and walked up to a mile in freezing weather to get to work to finish a shift, according to local news outlets.
In Austin, Texas, first responders have faced hundreds more emergency calls than usual in recent days, according to local KXAN-TV.
“Y’all, it is COLD!” the Austin Fire Department wrote on Twitter Friday. “The roads are wet and slippery, and let’s be honest ― we Texans aren’t all that great at driving under these conditions. So if you can stay home, please do so!”
The departments of transportation of Texas and Virginia issued similar calls.
“Please please please stay home if possible. If you must drive, reduce your speed and increase your following distance,” the Texas Department of Transportation said on Twitter late Friday.
“PLEASE #StayHome today,” the Virginia Department of Transportation wrote early Saturday. “We’re treating slick spots as best we can, but conditions are expected to worsen.”
Other parts of the U.S., are seeing far colder temperatures. In Billings, Montana, the NWS said on Twitter late Friday that the area had spent 132 hours below zero and was expected to face nearly three more days of the freezing temps. “That’s too many hours below 0°,” the agency said.
Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY, Brett Kelman, Nashville Tennessean