Winter weather cancels flights, leads to death in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — Winter weather brought ice to much of the United States on Tuesday, causing the cancellation of more than 1,600 flights across the country, halting traffic on a highway through Arkansas and cutting off power for thousands of Texans.

As the ice storm advanced east Tuesday, vigils and warnings stretched from the western heel of Texas to West Virginia. Multiple bouts of mixed precipitation — including freezing rain and sleet — were forecast for many areas through Wednesday, meaning some regions could be hit multiple times, the federal weather forecasting center warned.

Numerous auto accidents have been reported in Austin, Texas, resulting in at least one fatality, according to the Austin Fire Department. In Travis County, Texas, which includes Austin, police and sheriff’s deputies have responded to new accidents about every three minutes since 8 a.m., according to the Austin-Travis County Traffic Report Page.

More than 700 flights to or from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and more than 250 to or from Dallas Love Field were canceled or delayed as of Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware. At Dallas-Fort Worth, a major US airport hub, more than 40% of flights had been canceled.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 500 flights and delayed more than 250 others, FlightAware reported.

About 7,000 power outages were reported in Texas late Tuesday morning, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said after a briefing in Austin about the deteriorating conditions. He stressed the outages were due to factors like ice on power lines or fallen trees, and not the performance of the Texas power grid, which collapsed for days during a deadly winter storm in 2021.

Fleets of emergency vehicles have been deployed to 1,600 frost-affected roads.

A Texas state police officer was hospitalized with serious injuries after being hit by a driver who lost control of his vehicle, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“The roads are very dangerous at the moment. We can’t stress that enough,” Abbott said.

In Arkansas, Interstate 40 was icy and “extremely dangerous” in the Forrest City area Tuesday morning, according to the city’s fire department. Pictures posted on social media showed the crumpled cab of a semi-trailer.

The department responded to two serious wrecks and about 15 other crashes Tuesday morning, department chief Jeremy Sharp said by phone. In many accidents, drivers speed on the freeway but get into trouble when they reach a bridge, he said.

“They hit the ice and start smashing,” he said.

“If I-40 closes like this, it can mean hours of waiting,” said John Gadberry, who lives just off the freeway in Colt, Arkansas. “I-40 is usually one of the first things to freeze over due to its slight elevation.”

Late Tuesday morning, I-40 was cleared and traffic resumed, the Arkansas Department of Transportation said. The Interstate connects Little Rock, Arkansas, with Memphis, Tennessee.

The storm began Monday as part of an expected “several rounds” of wintry precipitation through Wednesday in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.

“Generally light to moderate freezing rain resulting in fairly significant amounts of ice,” Chenard said.

“We expect ice accumulations of possibly a quarter inch or more as far as Austin, Texas, to Dallas, through Little Rock, Arkansas, to Memphis, Tennessee, and even near Nashville, Tennessee,” Chenard said.

The flight disruptions follow December’s Southwest meltdown, which began with a winter storm but continued after most other airlines recovered. Southwest has canceled about 16,700 flights in the last 10 days of the year, and the US Department of Transportation is investigating.

The Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for much of Texas and parts of southeastern Oklahoma, and an ice storm warning across central Arkansas into western Tennessee.

A winter weather warning is in place for much of the rest of Arkansas and Tennessee, as well as much of Kentucky, West Virginia, and southern parts of Indiana and Ohio.

Schools and colleges in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas planned to close or transition to virtual learning on Tuesday.

Martin reported from Woodstock, Georgia. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; and David Koenig in Dallas contributed.

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