The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After cutting power to thousands, winter storm to exit Northeast on Friday night

The storm, which unloaded heavy snow and ice from New Mexico to Maine, snarled traffic and canceled thousands of flights

A large tree that fell because of ice accumulation blocks off North Cooper Street in Memphis on Feb. 3, 2022. (Brad Vest/Getty Images)

More than 300,000 Americans are in the dark amid a serious winter storm that has dropped heavy snow and ice and brought down trees and power lines. The storm unloaded double-digit snow totals from New Mexico to northern New England, while freezing rain accumulated half an inch thick from parts of Texas through the Tennessee Valley to New York state.

On Friday, the freezing rain caused new power outages in the Northeast and treacherous roads from the Hudson Valley to Massachusetts. Winter weather advisories spanned from eastern Pennsylvania to eastern Massachusetts, including New York City and Boston, with winter storm warnings to the north and northwest. Most of the advisories and warnings were set to expire Friday night as the storm pushes offshore.

Frigid air and subzero wind chills have followed in the storm’s wake, prompting wind-chill advisories that blanket Texas and the southern Plains.

On the system’s warm side, flash flooding accompanied tornadoes that tore through Alabama on Thursday afternoon, including a twister in the town of Sawyerville, about 30 miles southwest of Tuscaloosa, that killed one person and injured eight — three critically. Although tornado activity is not expected Friday, a few pockets of flooding remain possible in northwest Georgia.

More than 300,000 Americans are in the dark on Feb. 4 amid a serious winter storm that has dropped heavy snow and ice. (Video: Reuters)

Some of the worst icing on Thursday was in the Tennessee and Ohio valleys from eastern Arkansas into western Pennsylvania. Shelby County, home to Memphis, was among the hardest-hit areas; tracking website PowerOutage.Us reported more than 115,000 outages as of Friday evening.

As much as half an inch of ice accumulated on tree limbs, which snapped under its weight, in Memphis. MLGW, the local utility, said power restoration could take days amid freezing temperatures that could dip as low as 15 degrees Friday and Saturday nights. The ice in Memphis also caused an accident involving 16 vehicles that injured six people, according to the Memphis Fire Department.

As many as 70,000 power outages were reported in Texas on Thursday, with large parts of the state coated in ice and snow, including Austin and Dallas. But the number of outages dipped to around 10,000 by Friday as the state’s power grid seemed to largely withstand the wintry blast.

Other states hard hit by outages as of Friday evening included West Virginia (24,000), Ohio (61,000), Pennsylvania (27,000) and New York (57,000) — all because of the icy mix of precipitation.

For a third straight day, the storm resulted in thousands of flight delays and cancellations. The tracking website FlightAware reported nearly 4,000 cancellations and more than 3,000 delays Friday.

The storm’s wrath is now focused on New England, the northern Appalachians and the Northeast, where heavy snow is falling in parts of New York state, Vermont, New Hampshire and western Maine while a slushy slop extends south. An abrupt “flash freeze” will send temperatures plummeting Friday night toward the Interstate 95 corridor from New York to Boston, causing any slushiness on roadways and walkways to harden.

The system should clear the coast on Saturday, allowing temperatures 20 to 30 degrees lower to spill east in its wake.

The Friday night forecast

A mix of precipitation stretched from the Gulf Coast all the way to Maine and Nova Scotia on Friday evening along a front that spanned from Mexico to Greenland. The front had passed through Boston, New York and Washington, where temperatures had dropped about 20 degrees since early morning. The strength of the front was apparent by the temperature contrast between southeast Virginia, where it was 77 degrees in Virginia Beach, and Ohio, where it was around 18 in Columbus.

The freezing line wove through southeastern Pennsylvania, New York City, Long Island and southeast Massachusetts. Rain had changed to freezing rain along and north of this line.

With temperatures falling into the teens and 20s Friday night in Boston, local meteorologist Eric Fisher tweeted that it’s “going to be an ice rink of landscape tonight into tomorrow.”

Earlier Friday, Breanna Pitts, a traffic reporter for affiliate WBZ, tweeted that a “crazy amount of crashes” had occurred north of Boston.

Around New York City, the temperature fell 18 degrees in one hour as this front came through, from 56 to 38 degrees. Icy precipitation fell for much of the day in the Hudson Valley while the rain finally transitioned to freezing rain in Central Park by 5 p.m. A light glaze of ice is possible in the city before precipitation tapers off between 6 and 8 p.m. Friday.

To the northwest of the sleet and freezing rain, snow continued in interior New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. These areas will see moderate snows that become light Friday evening before fading overnight. A few more inches could fall before precipitation tapers.

Recap: Serious icing glazes Texas, Mid-South

Moderate to heavy freezing rain formed on the northwest side of a stalled cold front draped from the Texas-Louisiana border northeast through northern Kentucky and the Appalachians. That’s where moisture from the south “overran” a shallow lip of frigid air entrenched near the surface, allowing rain to fall before freezing on contact with the ground.

Topping the charts with reported icing was Bonham, Tex., northeast of Dallas near the Red River, or the Oklahoma border. Bonham had reported 0.75 inches of ice accumulation as of Thursday night. Although precipitation had ended there, it’s likely that a number of other 0.75-inch reports will crop up during the coming hours off to the east in Arkansas and western Tennessee.

Drone video from the City of Plano, Tex., on Feb. 3 shows snow over the city’s downtown, as northern and central Texas operated under a winter storm warning. (Video: City of Plano, Texas Government via Storyful)

That’s where a widespread half-inch or more of glaze was reported, particularly in the Interstate 40 stretch from Little Rock to Memphis and within the Mississippi River Valley. A half-inch of ice accretion can add hundreds of pounds of weight to a single tree limb, often leading it to snap and take down electrical lines.

Here’s a roundup of other reports from across the broader region:

  • 0.5 inches, Mulberry, Ark.
  • 0.5 inches, Talihina, Okla.
  • 0.5 inches, Plano, Tex.
  • 0.5 inches, San Angelo, Tex.
  • 0.4 inches, McConnelsville, Ohio
  • 0.38 inches, Honobia, Okla.
  • 0.38 inches, Lewisburg, Miss.
  • 0.38 inches, Benton, Ky.
  • 0.35 inches, Newburg, Ind.
  • 0.3 inches, Nesbit, Miss.
  • 0.3 inches, Altamont, Ill.
  • 0.25 inches, Preston, Mo.

Recap: Double-digit snow totals

Heavy snow fell farther to the north, where subfreezing temperatures were more stubborn in their occupation of a deeper layer of the atmosphere. That allowed precipitation to remain frozen with no concerns of melting and/or refreezing.

A swath of the Midwest picked up more than a foot of snow, but a strong northwest to southeast cutoff meant snowfall totals varied wildly over a short distance. Chicago’s Midway International Airport tallied 11 inches of snow, but O’Hare, barely a half-hour to the north, logged 5.6 inches. Valparaiso, the seat of Porter County, Ind., wound up with 13.5 inches.

The most snow to fall anywhere from this system was at the Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, where the instigating ingredients that would later combine into a cross-country snowstorm dropped 37 inches. That was a prelude to what would occur farther east — with the heaviest totals in a stripe from central Illinois through northern Indiana, western New York, Vermont and Maine. Here’s an assortment of what fell across the eastern half of the Lower 48:

  • 17 inches, Leiters Ford, Ind.
  • 16 inches, Killington, Vt.
  • 14 inches, Lake Placid, N.Y.
  • 14 inches, Burlington, Vt.
  • 12 inches, Denver and Boulder, Colo.
  • 12 inches, Peoria, Ill.
  • 12 inches, Augusta, Maine
  • 11 inches, Montpelier, Vt.
  • 10 inches, Stratton, Me.
  • 10 inches, South Bend, Ind.
  • 10 inches, Buffalo
  • 10 inches, Cleveland
  • 9 inches, Bangor, Maine
  • 8 to 12 inches, Springfield, Ill.
  • 8 inches, Indianapolis
  • 7 inches, Springfield, Mo.
  • 7 inches, Detroit
  • 6.5 inches, St. Louis
  • 6 inches, Wichita
  • 6 inches, Columbus
  • 5 inches, Oklahoma City
  • 3.8 inches, Kansas City
  • 1.5 inches, Dallas