Flights canceled as storm threatens much of US

By Paul J. Weber | Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Airlines canceled hundreds of flights on Tuesday, governors urged residents to stay off the road and schools closed campuses as much of the U.S. braced for a major winter storm that would leave millions of Americans in the loop of heavy snow and freezing rain.

The impending blast of frigid weather, expected to begin arriving Tuesday evening, brought a long swath of states from New Mexico to Vermont under winter storm warnings and hold. More than a foot of snow was possible in Michigan, following in the footsteps of a vicious northeast last weekend that brought blizzards to many parts of the East Coast.

“It will be a very messy system and make travel very difficult,” said Marty Rausch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

The storm’s projected footprint extended into southern Texas, where nearly a year after a catastrophic frost collapsed the state’s power grid in one of the worst blackouts in US history, Governor Greg Abbott defended the readiness of the state. The forecast doesn’t call for the same prolonged and frigid temperatures as the February 2021 storm, and the National Weather Service said the approaching system wouldn’t be so bad for Texas overall this time around.

“No one can guarantee there won’t be” outages caused by grid demand, Abbott said Tuesday. “But what we’re going to work on, and what we’re willing to achieve, is to keep power throughout the state.”

In November, Abbott had even given a winter guarantee: “I can guarantee the lights will stay on,” he told Austin television station KTBC.

Abbott, whose handling of last year’s blackout is a line of attack for Democrats as the Republican seeks a third term in 2022, said thousands of miles of roads in Texas will become “extremely dangerous” in the coming days. Energy experts said the forecast this week, although below freezing, shouldn’t pose a challenge to Texas’s power grid.

“The question has always been if we get a repeat of last year, would the power stay on? And this is far from a repeat of last year,” said Doug Lewin, an Austin energy consultant who has criticized Texas’ response to the power outages as inadequate.

Airlines have canceled more than 1,000 flights in the US scheduled for Wednesday, flight-tracking service FlightAware.com showed, including more than half of the sign in St. Louis. Missouri Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency as school districts and universities moved classes to online or canceled them entirely.

Chicago O’Hare International Airport also canceled more than 100 departures, and airports in Kansas City and Detroit also canceled more flights than usual.

Illinois lawmakers have canceled their three scheduled hearings this week as the central part of the state prepares for heavy snow, ice and high winds in the region.

The National Weather Service said 6 to 12 inches of snow was expected in parts of the Rockies and the Midwest Thursday morning, while heavy ice is likely to come from Texas through the Ohio Valley.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the weather service said 8 to 14 inches (20 to 36 centimeters) of snow was possible in parts of Michigan. So is Detroit, where the mayor activated snow emergency routes and city workers were expected to work 12-hour shifts salting and plowing major roads.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, where up to 18 inches of snow and sleet are forecast but little ice, emergency management director Joe Kralicek said the event is not expected to cause large-scale blackouts based on an ice index used by the National Weather Service.

“We might see some power outages, but it also suggests they are limited in size and nature and very short-lived,” Kralicek said.

Becky Gligo, director of the nonprofit Housing Solutions in Tulsa, said teams are working to move homeless people to shelters ahead of the lowest levels expected to plunge into single digits Friday night.

Associated Press journalists Julie Walker in New York, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Ken Miller in Oklahoma City, John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois, and Jeff Martin in Woodstock, Georgia, contributed to this report.

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