A winter storm was dumping snow Wednesday from the Florida Panhandle to Maine as it left bone-chilling and icy conditions in the states behind it, sent drivers sliding off roads in parts of the South and East, and forced thousands of airline customers to scramble.
More than 1,200 US flights have been canceled and many others delayed Wednesday, with airports in Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans and Boston tallying the most cancellations, flight tracking site Flightaware.com says.
In Houston, ice that the storm left on roads a day earlier reverberated Wednesday, with drivers on US 59/Interstate 69 turning around and intentionally heading the wrong way to exit off entrance ramps to avoid icy patches and backups.
The below-freezing temperatures were deadly; one homeless person died from hypothermia, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said Tuesday.
Officials across the South urged people to stay off the roads as videos emerged of motorists in several cities sliding off ice-coated lanes.
Nearly 600 crashes have been reported in Harris County since Tuesday morning, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.
“Even if you think you want to go out … to go to the grocery store, the truth is they haven’t been able to be resupplied. So, just wait,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Wednesday morning.
The sheriff’s office in neighboring Fort Bend County was more blunt on Twitter: “Houston is still closed, Fort Bend. Go back to bed.”
Snowfall on Wednesday is expected to be the heaviest in North Carolina — Raleigh could get up to 6 inches — and in New England, where Boston also could see around 6 inches.
“As you go into the afternoon, evening hours, the system is pushing off the Eastern Seaboard,” CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said.
But even where accumulation is lighter, it could lead to slippery travel given the recent stretch of low temperatures, the National Weather Service said on Twitter.
Cars slide off roads
As it moved across the South, the storm system created difficult driving conditions Wednesday.
In Atlanta, schools and numerous businesses closed as 2 inches of snow and icy or otherwise slippery roads led to dozens of crashes by morning, CNN affiliate WSB reported.
More 90 crashes were reported Wednesday morning in Atlanta, police there said, as were more than 170 in suburban Gwinnett County, just to the northeast.
Video from CNN affiliate WGCL showed vehicles stopped on icy Atlanta streets Wednesday morning, including a city transit bus that apparently couldn’t go any further on a slick stretch.
Just west of Atlanta, motorists were cautiously navigating one paved lane of the multilane Interstate 20 Wednesday morning, according to video that motorist Kristopher Mathews posted to Instagram.
“Everything was a sheet of ice, and the skinny lane plowed in the middle of I-20 … was minimally helpful,” Mathews wrote.
Parts of highways were closed Wednesday in Louisiana, including a 45-mile stretch of Interstate 49 northwest of Baton Rouge because of icing, state police said.
In Metairie, east of New Orleans, Paul Herring found ice coating the sidewalk outside his home Wednesday morning — so he put on a pair of ice skates, and his wife took a video of him gliding along the path.
“(I haven’t) regularly skated since I played peewee hockey, but I still had the skates in the attic and I couldn’t resist the temptation,” he told CNN.
Dangerous wind chills
In Tennessee, which had the coldest pockets in the South, wind chills made the air feel as low as 10 below zero Wednesday morning. More than 45 million people are under wind chill advisories or warnings in the United States.
Forecasters said chilly air would hang around from the South to the Northeast, leaving icy roads and hazardous conditions through Thursday.
The governors of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency for at least portions of their states.
Classes were canceled Wednesday at a number of universities in the South, including Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State University.