At least 14 people are dead in four states from the effects of a record-shattering cold snap and series of winter storms since Sunday. In Texas, as the electricity grid struggles to keep pace with record high demand amid a historic cold outbreak, people are turning to unsafe means to heat their homes. A woman and a girl died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston after a car was left running in a garage to keep them warm, according to police.

The Arctic air has also claimed the life of at least one homeless person in Houston, and a 10-year-old boy died after he fell through ice near Millington, Tenn. A tornado associated with the storm system that helped draw Arctic air to the south struck in North Carolina overnight, killing at least three and injuring 10.

Here’s what to know
  • As one winter storm associated with the cold outbreak leaves the East Coast on Tuesday, another is taking shape across the nation’s southern tier, aiming for some of the same hard-hit areas Tuesday night through the end of the week.
  • Some people in Texas have been in the dark for more than 24 hours.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is calling for reforming the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the Texas electrical grid. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also opening an inquiry into the power failures there and in the Midwest.
  • Dallas, Houston, and Oklahoma City all posted their lowest temperatures since at least 1989 Tuesday morning. These cities are under winter storm or ice storm warnings into Wednesday, with more ice and snow forecast.
  • See photos from the hardest-hit regions.
11:07 p.m.
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The Texas grid got crushed because its operators didn’t see the need to prepare for cold weather

When it gets really cold, it can be hard to produce electricity, as customers in Texas and neighboring states are finding out. But it’s not impossible. Operators in Alaska, Canada, Maine, Norway and Siberia do it all the time.

What has sent Texas reeling is not an engineering problem, nor is it the frozen wind turbines blamed by prominent Republicans. It is a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, critics say, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service.

It’s a “Wild West market design based only on short-run prices,” said a portfolio manager, Matt Breidert, at an analytical firm called EcoFin/Tortoise.

And yet the temporary train wreck of that market Monday and Tuesday has seen the wholesale price of electricity in Houston go from $22 a megawatt-hour to about $9,000, while 4 million Texans have been without power.

The widespread failure in Texas and to a lesser extent Oklahoma in the face of a winter cold snap shines a light on what some see as the derelict state of America’s power infrastructure, a reflection of the chaos that struck California last summer.

10:50 p.m.
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When will it get warm?

It’s been a week and a half of brutal cold for much of the Midwest and Plains, with temperatures in the double digits below zero a nightly routine for many. Following what was the most severe and widespread day of the cold-air outbreak, millions are wondering: When does the pattern change?

The cold air entrenched across Texas and parts of the South will begin to withdraw in the coming days, with more seasonable temperatures returning to most by Saturday into Sunday. The cold, in a more moderate state, will be swept northeast into the Midwest and Great Lakes for a day or two before retreating into Canada.

It appears likely that a return to average or even above-average temperatures will manifest itself in the Eastern United States in the next seven to 10 days.

On Monday, the high temperature in Dallas was 14 degrees. By next Tuesday, the high is expected to reach 64, a 50-degree improvement.

10:36 p.m.
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Despite improvement, power outages are widespread as another cold night looms

Though the number of customers in the dark had dropped by 25 percent in Texas on Tuesday, nearly 3.2 million customers remained without electricity early Tuesday evening, according to PowerOutage.us. That’s about 1 million customers fewer than at the peak of the blackouts, but still represents more than a quarter of the Lone Star State.

Meanwhile, about 11,000 customers were without power in Oklahoma, primarily around the Oklahoma City metro area, with 120,000 out in Louisiana and Mississippi. Significant outages were reported from heavy icing in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, where about 270,000 customers were without service.

Many Texans will be forced to endure a second night without heat amid bitterly cold temperatures across the south-central United States, with overnight lows in the single digits and teens likely throughout much of the state. A low of 10 degrees is forecast in Oklahoma City, with dangerously cold temperatures lasting through the workweek.

9:52 p.m.
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What’s behind the Arctic cold and snow plaguing the central U.S.?

It took a while, but when winter decided to kick into full gear across the heartland of the nation these past few days, it did so with a passion.

The barrage of winter storms and onslaught of Arctic cold are the product of particularly placed weather systems, a disrupted polar vortex and a pattern favoring cold air arriving from the high latitudes.

The extreme pattern has been incubating for a while, beginning in early January with a perturbation of the polar vortex. That disruption knocked the whirling eddy of bitter cold air and low pressure off-kilter, resulting in upper-atmospheric warming that displaced cold air to the mid-latitudes.

9:50 p.m.
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Amid the cold, snow and ice, the Oklahoma City Thunder play on

Oklahoma City leaders and power company representatives are calling for residents to conserve energy to reduce strain on the electric grid. Yet Tuesday night’s Oklahoma City Thunder game is still on.

Officials said they “are doing everything they can to reduce power consumption inside the building,” tweeted Peyton Yager, a reporter for local TV station KFOR.

News that the basketball game would still be held drew anger online, with commenters noting that there had been rolling power outages earlier in the day. Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. stopped the interruptions as of midmorning Tuesday but was still asking consumers to conserve energy.

“Don’t turn my electricity off again,” one Twitter user wrote, tagging OG&E. “If we need blackouts this evening start with the Thunder game.”

9:30 p.m.
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A second winter storm threatens: City-by-city forecast

Texas and the South are still recovering from a hefty dose of snow and sleet that ground commerce and travel to a halt. Those same areas are once again under winter storm warnings as a second storm rolls across the country.

Here’s what to expect Tuesday night into Thursday:

Central and southern U.S.

  • Dallas: Temperatures in the teens Tuesday night with snow arriving before midnight, becoming moderate at times into early Wednesday morning. A transition to sleet by 5 a.m. with freezing rain and a wintry mix possible during the day Wednesday. Accumulations of 1 to 3 inches are expected and a winter storm warning is in effect. Precipitation exits by evening.
  • Austin: Freezing rain and a wintry mix with a dash of sleet after midnight. Ice accretions of 0.1 to 0.2 inches are expected and a winter storm warning is in effect through 6 a.m. Wednesday. Lows around 20 tonight, with precipitation tapering off Wednesday morning. Highs Wednesday in the upper 30s.
  • Houston: Freezing rain likely late, with light glazing possible on untreated surfaces. Lows around 30. An ice storm warning is in effect through 6 a.m. Thursday. Temperatures warm into the lower 40s Wednesday, with ordinary rain and some melting.
  • Oklahoma City: Snow, moderate to heavy at times, overnight, with snow showers lingering Wednesday morning. Accumulations of 4 to 7 inches are expected. A winter storm warning is in effect until 6 p.m. Wednesday. Low around 10 degrees.
  • Little Rock: Snow late overnight becoming moderate Wednesday and winding down overnight into Thursday. Accumulations of 3 to 5 inches possible, and a winter storm warning is in effect until noon Thursday.
  • Shreveport, La.: Lows around 20 tonight with temperatures flirting with freezing Wednesday. Several inches of snow along with a glaze of freezing rain are possible, and a winter storm warning is in effect through noon Thursday.

Midwest and Tennessee Valley

  • Memphis: Snow on Wednesday mixing with freezing rain and sleet overnight before transitioning back to snow Thursday. Snow accumulations of 3 to 6 inches with a light glaze of ice. A winter storm watch is in effect.
  • Chicago: Frigid tonight, with lows between zero and 5 degrees. Highs around 20 on Wednesday with isolated late-day snow showers.
  • Indianapolis: Lows around zero overnight, with sunny skies and highs around 20 on Wednesday. Snow arrives by evening and lasts off and on through late Thursday.

East Coast

  • Greensboro, N.C.: Freezing rain likely Wednesday night into Thursday, transitioning to ordinary rain. Ice accretion of 0.1 inch before a half-inch or more rain falls Thursday. A winter storm watch is in effect
  • Washington, D.C.: Snow arrives Wednesday night with temperatures near freezing supporting a wintry mix Thursday into early Friday. Snow totals of 2 to 4 inches, with more north and west, along with up to a quarter-inch of ice accretion. A winter storm watch is in effect late Wednesday night to late Thursday night.
  • New York City: Snow on Thursday and Thursday night giving way to a wintry mix late. Snow accumulations of 3 to 5 inches with a dash of sleet or freezing rain.
  • Boston: Snow likely late Thursday into early Friday, ending Friday afternoon as rain. Totals of 3 to 6 inches likely.
9:00 p.m.
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The air in Texas is so cold that it’s confusing weather satellites

The extreme cold in Texas and the south-central United States is so severe that it’s showing up on weather satellites, which is confusing it with clouds. A blob of purple and blue can be seen draped across the southern Plains, highlighting where subzero temperatures continue to take a toll on millions without power.

Infrared weather satellites can detect the frigid temperatures found at the top of clouds, allowing software to plot where clouds are present and their vertical extent. Taller clouds reach higher into the atmosphere, where it’s colder.

In the wintertime, most mid-level clouds are zero degrees or colder.

But in Texas and across the Plains, the extreme cold present means ground temperatures are in the zero to minus-10 range. The weather satellites’ existing algorithms sense objects of that temperature — in this case, land rather than cloud cover — and plot them in the same colors ordinarily reserved for clouds.

Lake-effect snow can be seen, too, from Lakes Conroe and Livingston, north of Houston.

8:35 p.m.
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Texas dairies may be hit hardest by cold snap

Because of record storms and cold temperatures in Texas, 4 million to 8 million gallons of milk are being dumped daily by the state’s dairies, even as local Kroger and H-E-B grocery shelves empty of milk and other core supplies.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which has jurisdiction over many of the state’s utilities, had tough decisions to make over the weekend. The historic cold has taxed the power grid to its limit, leaving many households without electricity. On Sunday, commission officials called Rance Miles, chief executive of Select Milk Producers, a dairy cooperative of 115 large family farms mostly in southwest Texas. They told him that his manufacturing plant in Littlefield, which processes 80 tankers daily filled with 50,000 pounds of milk each, would have to shut down. The power grid was so stressed, the commission had to focus on supplying residential customers.

“On Saturday, our natural gas providers said if you continue to run, your cost will go from $3 per dekatherm to $300 per dekatherm because of the shortage,” Miles said. “Our bill would go from $3,000 per day to $300,000, and I said fine, otherwise we’ll have to dispose of that milk and lose $800,000 per day. But they shut us down anyway on Sunday, probably through Thursday.”

Sid Miller, commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, says that not only are the state’s dairy farmers dumping milk into their wastewater ponds, but feed mills also are shut down because of a lack of natural gas — so poultry and dairy farms can’t get any feed.

“There’s no backup generator for natural gas. There are a lot of dairy cattle that are going to get real hungry by Friday,” Miller said. “I just talked to one farmer feeding his animals his last bale of hay. It’s pretty dire.”

Miller anticipates other shortfalls at the grocery stores: Meat processing plants can’t get enough power to operate right now, feed lots can’t get water and feed to their animals, and freezes may have killed some of the produce in the South Texas winter garden area.

“Meanwhile, we’ve got tremendous demand at the state’s 21 food banks,” Miller said. “They are going to run short.”

8:12 p.m.
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Photos: Paramedics help the homeless in Oklahoma City

Paramedics and firefighters visited a homeless encampment in Oklahoma City on Tuesday during record-breaking cold and snow. They brought Eugene Rich, who is homeless and was suffering from frostbite on his feet, to the hospital, while others, such as Debbie Orca, had to make a fire to thaw bottles of water.

The temperature in Oklahoma City fell to minus-14 on Tuesday morning, the coldest since 1899.

8:09 p.m.
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FERC, NERC to open inquiry into power system outages amid winter storms

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced it would open a joint inquiry alongside the North American Electric Reliability Corp. into bulk-power system operations during the ongoing extreme winter weather in Midwestern and south-central states.

The regulatory agencies said the inquiry would include work with other federal, state and regional agencies and utilities to help identify problems with the bulk-power system’s performance, and to help assess what can be done to address those problems, according to a release from the agency.

“For now, the emphasis must remain on restoring power to customers and securing the reliability of the bulk-power system,” FERC Chairman Rich Glick said in a tweet.

The agency said the inquiry would formally begin in the “days ahead.”

A decade ago, the two agencies also conducted an inquiry and produced a report on the severe cold-weather event the Southwest experienced in 2011.

7:40 p.m.
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Experts weigh how much extreme cold may increase illness and death

The combination of the most frigid temperatures in decades and power outages will inevitably result in cold-related illnesses and death, especially among vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the frail, poor and socially isolated. Already, at least one homeless man has died from suspected exposure in Houston.

But, will we see a huge spike in mortality, similar to those after some extreme heat events (such as Chicago in 1995 and Europe in 2003)? Weather and public health experts say that’s unlikely.

“In terms of cold-related mortality, the majority of the increase is lagged and most highly related to increased respiratory ailments; given that with COVID distancing the influenza season hasn’t been particularly strong this year, it may not lead to as much of an increase as you might otherwise think,” wrote Scott Sheridan, an expert on temperature-related mortality at Kent State University, in an email.

“I do imagine there will be an increase in hypothermia cases in these areas, and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s notable in cities with a large homeless population (e.g. Austin) that has really extended cold,” he said.

“There will be some extra deaths related to hypothermia, shoveling heart attacks, and accidents,” added Larry Kalkstein, another expert in temperature-related mortality at the University of Miami. “But I wouldn’t expect a spike such as those found during the worst heat events in the Midwest or Northeast.”

Risk factors that could increase the public health toll include the fact people in hardest hit parts of Texas are not acclimatized to temperatures at these levels, nor are many buildings designed for it. “The infrastructure can’t deal with weather of this kind with any efficiency,” Kalkstein wrote in an email.

Kristie Ebi, a professor of environmental health at the University of Washington, said it will be hard to evaluate the severity of the health effects until the data are in.

“[O]ne could postulate an increase in mortality because the influenza season was not particularly strong. This could mean there are more individuals particularly susceptible to other exposures, such as cold temperatures,” she wrote in an email.

7:34 p.m.
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Graphics show just how unusual this cold air is and where it came from

Temperatures across the center of the country, from the Canadian border south to the Rio Grande, have been running at astonishing deficits compared with averages. On Monday and Tuesday, the core of the cold air featured temperature anomalies of nearly 50 degrees below average, indicative of air that came straight out of the Arctic.

The cold snap is because of storm systems from the Pacific to North America, as well as a weaker, more meandering polar vortex that conspired to help send air from Siberia, across the Pole, and south across Canada and into the Lower 48 states during the past week.

Interestingly, over the long term, climate change is making such cold snaps less frequent and severe, and may have led to fewer record lows during this event than there would have been just a few decades ago.

7:28 p.m.
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Automakers Nissan, Toyota halt U.S. production amid harsh winter weather

Nissan has suspended production at its four U.S. manufacturing facilities in Mississippi and Tennessee to keep employees safe during the severe weather, the automaker said Tuesday.

“We hope to resume production soon but continue to monitor forecasts,” spokeswoman Lloryn Love-Carter said in an email.

Toyota Motor stopped the first shift of production Tuesday, scheduled to start at 6:30 a.m., for its manufacturing plants in Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Texas and West Virginia, and delayed production in Alabama, because of “weather-related challenges.”

Spokeswoman Kelly Stefanich said in an email that Toyota is assessing the situation to make a decision about each plant’s second-shift production, typically scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

General Motors canceled both the morning first shift and afternoon second shift for four manufacturing plants in Texas, Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky because of “the significant winter weather.”

Spokesman David Barnas said in an email that GM will decide later in the day Tuesday whether operations will resume at the first three plants for their third shift operations.

Ford Motor Co. suspended production at its Kansas City, Mo. assembly plant between Feb. 13 and Feb. 21 because the cold temperatures could restrict the availability of natural gas. Three other plants — in Ohio, Michigan and Mexico — are not currently operating because of weather concerns, spokeswoman Kelli Felker said Tuesday afternoon.

7:18 p.m.
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The extreme cold hasn’t just been intense — it’s been persistent

The coldest air mass in 31 years has swallowed the central United States, its intensity matched only by its unusual persistence. Some places haven’t seen temperatures rise above zero for a week, and the Arctic outbreak will not release its icy clasp until the weekend.

In Minneapolis, the month of February is running 16 degrees below normal. Nine of the past 11 mornings have dipped to minus-10 degrees or colder. The temperature rose above zero around noontime Tuesday for the first time since Thursday. Valentine’s Day started at minus-14.

In Nebraska, Omaha sneaked below zero on 10 of the past 11 nights, including Monday night, when the temperature fell to minus-19 degrees. Lincoln started at minus-31 on Tuesday morning, while Hastings, in central Nebraska, set a record low at minus-30.

Grand Forks, N.D. spent nine days below zero, only finally rising into the positives Monday afternoon. Six nights have fallen to below minus-20 this month. Surprisingly, the ongoing event doesn’t even crack the top 10 list for longest stretches with lows below minus-15 in Grand Forks. Nearby Bismarck spent 11 consecutive nights below minus-10 degrees, and even hit minus-28 on Sunday night.

Kansas City bottomed out at minus-10 on Sunday night and Monday night.