Millions of Americans were under winter alerts Wednesday stretching from Southern California to New England as storms marched east but spared sun seekers in Florida.
These alerts preceded a long-duration storm that for many parts of the nation kicked off 24 consecutive hours or more of wintry precipitation. A 1,800-mile swath of icing was possible from central Texas into the Northeast.
The threat of Mother Nature's wrath prompted delays or cancellations of more than 1,100 flights at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport as of Wednesday afternoon, according to FlightAware. The flight-tracking service reported a total of 4,523 U.S.-related flight delays and 1,695 cancellations.
The municipally owned DFW said it was busy treating runways and taxiways to prevent ice from freezing rain. American Airlines told The Dallas Morning News that it was getting ahead of the storm hoping to avoid last-minute disruptions.
“This week’s winter storm is expected to have a significant impact on our operation, especially in Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW),” an American Airlines spokesperson said.
“The vast majority of impacted flights have been canceled in advance so we could proactively notify and accommodate our customers and avoid last-minute disruptions at the airport.”
The storm brought a variety of winter hazards, including snow, sleet and freezing rain, from the Texas to the Great Lakes.
For locations like North Texas and Oklahoma, the wintry mix was accompanied by thunder-ice, with lightning accompanying the heaviest areas of freezing rain and sleet. A second wave of icing was expected in the region overnight and into Thursday.
In Oklahoma City and surrounding communities, where the wind chill temperature dove into the deep blue of negative integers late Wednesday, more than 6,000 utility customers were without power. The cause of the outage was not immediately known.
The area of greatest concern was from the Red River into the Mississippi Valley. That’s where a damaging ice storm is likely to produce 0.25 inches to 0.75 inches or more of ice accumulation which will make travel impossible and lead to downed trees and power lines.
The culprit was not only a cold front that was moving from the Southern Plains toward the northeast, but a February jet stream doing its best limbo, bringing the sting of cold air all the way to northern Mexico, federal forecasters said.
Record-breaking cold was expected in portions of the Plains and West, according to the National Weather Service.
On Thursday, the wintry mix will continue across the Southern Plains but also spread into parts of the Tennessee and Ohio valleys. Snow will break out on the northern side of the storm system across the Midwest and southern Great Lakes. Strong thunderstorms and heavy rainfall will drench the Southeast.
Thursday night into Friday morning, the storm system finally reaches the East Coast, bringing the risk for a wintry mix for places like Philadelphia and New York and heavy snow for New England, including Boston.
All precipitation will finally exit off the Atlantic Coast by Friday evening.
The most damaging aspect of this storm could be ice. Anywhere from a glaze to 0.75 inches or more of ice will be possible from Central Texas up through portions of the Northeast. Cities that could see icing include Dallas; Little Rock, Arkansas; St. Louis; Cincinnati; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; New York; and Hartford, Conn.
On the cold side of the storm, 3 to 6 inches of snow will stretch from the Midwest into New England with a bullseye of 6 to 12 inches possible from upstate New York to Southern New England. Cities expecting to see accumulating snow include Chicago; Cleveland; Buffalo and Albany, New York; Burlington, Vermont; Portland, Maine; and Boston.
And finally, on the warm side of the storm, 1 to 2 inches of rain, locally higher up to 3 inches, will be possible from the Southeast into the Ohio Valley. Rivers and streams are already running high, so there could be some river flooding in addition to urban flooding.
As the massive winter storm traverses the center of the country, it will be sandwiched in between record-setting temperatures on both coasts.
A dozen states across the West could set record lows on Wednesday with temperatures 20-40 degrees below average. These include locations like Seattle; San Francisco; Los Angeles; and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Rain in Southern California and the Southwest was moving over the Rocky Mountains on Wednesday to make snow with the help of icy air. Denver's morning low temperature of -7 was a record for the date.
Wednesday drew high temperatures often more than 10 degrees above average for the date from parts of Florida to Boston ahead of the storm. Parts of the Southeast and Florida were expected to see daytime highs in the 80s Thursday as much of the rest of the country faces ice and snow.
The National Weather Service on Wednesday issued or maintained Wind Chill Alerts that stretched from the Canadian border to the Texas Panhandle. Residents were warned that forecast wind chills as cold as 20 to 50 below zero could lead to frostbite in mere minutes.