Dozens of people across the United States have died from a spate of winter storms — and now the weather is threatening to pummel the mid-Atlantic and Northeast with snow and ice.
More than 100 million people stretching from Texas to Massachusetts are under a winter storm warning or winter weather advisory, and more days of deep freeze could mean a multiplication of the harrowing tales of hardship.
The blistering cold weather that has brought blankets of snow and widespread power outages in Texas as well as Oklahoma is expected to move east Thursday, bringing with it a half an inch of ice to parts of North Carolina and Virginia, according to CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward.
A tornado watch is in effect for parts of the Florida Panhandle, Southwest Georgia and Southeast Alabama until 8 a.m. EST. Washington, DC will be coated in snow, sleet and freezing rain by Thursday morning, while New York should see six to eight inches of snow in the afternoon, Ward said.
The weather is not the typical winter cold. Some of those who have already been impacted by the storms have spent days without power and water, and likely won’t see temperatures rise above freezing until next week.
Without electricity to survive the cold, many have been turning to other means like gas stoves and generators to stay warm, running the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. To date, 38 deaths have been attributed to the winter storms since Thursday.
Texans have borne the brunt of the distress.
One mother told CNN she is considering driving to Mexico to keep her family safe in a hotel. With another freeze expected, she is running out of options for three of her children whose insulin are spoiling and her child on the autism spectrum who has a compromised immune system.
“You either go to the shelter to get warm, or you stay home, stay cold, and stay away from the pandemic,” Sylvia Cerda Salinas told CNN’s Don Lemon.
Weather turns fatal
Continued severe weather means more days of risk for fatalities and injuries.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned doctors Wednesday to be aware of the increased hazard of carbon monoxide poisonings and deaths as storms sweep through the country.
Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless gas that can build up when any type of fossil fuel is burned — gasoline, coal or natural gas. Home heating systems are a common source, but the danger is especially high when people turn to unusual sources of heat or power during electricity outages.
From Saturday to Monday, four adults in Oregon died of carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to stay warm, according to Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. One person appears to have ignited charcoal briquettes inside while three others were sheltering in recreational vehicles.
While Kentucky officials have responded to calls regarding carbon monoxide, state police reported Wednesday that a 25-year-old was found Friday dead as a result of hypothermia.
Texas has lost 16 residents to the weather, while the rest of the toll is spread across Tennessee, Oregon, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Residents seek refuge in their cars
With little else available, many families are relying on their vehicles to make it through the cold.
In San Antonio, Jordan Orta and her 2-year-old son slept in her car Tuesday night because their powerless home was so cold, as outside temperatures dipped into the 20s. Her home was without power from Tuesday night until early Wednesday, after earlier outages.
Another Texan family, faced with a home with no electricity, opted to drive more than 200 miles through snow and ice, for shelter.
The normally two-and-a-half hour drive turned into a five- or six-hour trek, said Bryce Smith. He said the one thing that made the drive from Austin to Royce City possible was that he’s from Iowa and knows how to drive in the snow.
“There are no plows here. There is no help at all. You go out here and it’s just fresh snow and ice. There’s no sand down,” he said.
A long wait for the power to come back
More than 1.7 million customers across the US were without power early Thursday morning, according to PowerOutages.US. And the damage to utilities means many will be hunkering down for a while longer.
Winter storms in Kentucky have caused “physical damage to the infrastructure that transmits and delivers electricity to households” and some residents still might not have power by the end of the week, state officials said.
“We believe that we’re going to make substantial headway through the end of this week in getting people their power back, but in some areas of Eastern Kentucky it may take longer than through the end of the week,” said Gov. Andy Beshear, who acknowledged it was tough news for residents.
With more snow and ice expected Thursday, Entergy, a power company for Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, said about 40,000 of its customers in Louisiana were still without power Wednesday as a result of the winter storms, according to a statement from the company.
The weather has also knocked out water plants in many places, including Marlin, a town in central Texas with a population of more than 5,500 residents.
Speaking of residents’ frustration, Marlin City Manager Cedric Davis said “They are cussing us, calling us names, saying they don’t understand, they don’t understand. We cried last night. We are giving it our all. People are so inhumane. They don’t understand. I’ve never seen anything like it,” the Waco Tribune-Herald reported.
Fortunately, Texas’ power provider, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), said Wednesday it was making progress in restoring power to the state’s electric system and hoped local utilities may return to rotating outages instead of extended outages Thursday morning.