Eds: UPDATES: The story and summary has been updated with new forecast details, flight cancellation numbers, and to delete outdated material. Adds details on Groundhog Day. Links new photos. With AP Photos. AP Video.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A major winter storm with millions of Americans in its path brought a mix of rain, freezing rain and snow to the middle section of the United States on Wednesday as airlines canceled hundreds of flights, governors urged residents to stay off roads and schools closed campuses.
The blast of frigid weather, which began arriving Tuesday night, put a long stretch of states from New Mexico and Colorado to Maine under winter storm warnings and watches. On Wednesday morning, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan saw freezing rain, sleet and snow.
The storm had already dropped heavy snow over much of Kansas and parts of Missouri by early Wednesday, with weather forecasters warning that the snow was only expected to intensify throughout the day. More than a foot of snow was expected in parts of central Missouri and Michigan, and up to a foot of snow could fall Wednesday and Thursday in central and northeastern Illinois.
Areas south of the heavy snow were expected to see freezing rain. Up to three-quarters of an inch of ice could fall in parts of Arkansas, forecasters said, which brings the potential of widespread power outages.
The disruptive storm moved across the central U.S. on Groundhog Day, the same day the famed groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. The storm came on the heels of a vicious nor’easter last weekend that brought blizzard conditions to many parts of the East Coast.
The footprint of the storm extended as far south as Texas, where nearly a year after a catastrophic freeze buckled the state’s power grid in one of the worst blackouts in U.S. history, Gov. Greg Abbott defended the state’s readiness. The forecast did not call for the same prolonged and frigid temperatures as the February 2021 storm and the National Weather Service said the system would, generally, not be as bad this time for Texas.
“No one can guarantee that there won’t be any” outages caused by demand on the power grid, Abbott said Tuesday. “But what we will work to achieve, and what we’re prepared to achieve is that power is going to stay on across the entire state.”
In November, Abbott had, in fact, made a guarantee for winter: “I can guarantee the lights will stay on,” he told Austin television station KTBC.
Abbott, whose handling of last year’s blackouts is a top line of attack for Democrats as the Republican seeks a third term in 2022, said thousands of miles of roads in Texas will become “extraordinarily dangerous” over the coming days. Energy experts said the forecast this week, although below freezing, should not pose a challenge for Texas’ grid.
“The question has always been if we get a repeat of last year, would the power stay on? And this is nowhere near a repeat of last year,” said Doug Lewin, an energy consultant in Austin who has criticized Texas’ response to the blackouts as insufficient.
No large-scale power outages were reported early Wednesday in Texas or elsewhere, according to poweroutage.us.
Airlines canceled more than 1,400 flights in the U.S. scheduled for Wednesday, the flight-tracking service FlightAware.com showed, including more than three-quarters taken off the board in St. Louis. In an effort to stay ahead of the weather, Southwest Airlines announced Tuesday that it would suspend all of its flight operations Wednesday at St. Louis Lambert International Airport and Thursday at its Dallas Love Field hub. Airports in Chicago, Kansas City and Detroit canceled more flights than usual.
“Around the country, we’re planning to operate a limited or reduced schedule from some cities in the path of the storm but will make adjustments to the schedule as needed,” Southwest spokesman Dan Landson said.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency as school districts and universities shifted classes to online or canceled them entirely.
Illinois lawmakers canceled their three scheduled days of session this week as the central part of the state prepares for heavy snow, ice and high wind gusts in the region. In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a statewide state of emergency as the winter storm approached that would remain in effect for seven days.
The National Weather Service said 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of snow was expected by Thursday morning in parts of the Rockies and Midwest, while heavy ice is likely from Texas through the Ohio Valley.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the weather service said 8 to 15 inches (20 to 38 centimeters) of snow was possible in parts of Michigan. That includes Detroit, where the mayor activated snow emergency routes and city crews were expected to work 12-hour shifts salting and plowing major roads.
National Weather Service forecasters in Little Rock put their own spin on the Groundhog Day tradition with a photo of their office cat, Tarmac, and the caption: “SHADOWS EVERYWHERE! THE WINTER STORM IS HAPPENING!”
Associated Press journalists Julie Walker in New York; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois; Terry Wallace in Dallas; Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; and Jeff Martin in Woodstock, Georgia; contributed to this report.