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Millions Without Power From Sprawling Winter Storm


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A major winter storm hit a large part of the United States on Monday, with heavy snow and cold temperatures in Texas. Many residents are still without power.CreditCredit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Millions of people remained without power Tuesday and were anticipating another cold, dark night in the wake of a deadly winter storm that bulldozed its way across the southern and central parts of the United States this week, in places where such perilously frigid conditions tend to arrive just once in a generation.

By late afternoon Tuesday, the storm was moving into eastern Canada, but the damage left behind was severe. Temperatures across the middle of the country had plummeted to lows not felt in a century or more, with measurements of minus 14 in Oklahoma City and minus 20 in Fayetteville, Ark., even as a new winter storm was building in the southern Plains.

At least 23 people have died since winter weather began wreaking havoc last week, some from the cold itself and some from attempts to escape it. And more than four million customers across the country remained without electricity on Tuesday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.us, which aggregates live power data from utilities.

Most of the outages by far were in Texas, where many people had been without power for hours or even days in freezing temperatures. State leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, expressed sharp criticism of the operation of the state’s power grid, and the Texas House speaker announced a legislative hearing looking into the widespread power failures.

The disruptions caused problems at water treatment plants, leading to boil water advisories for hundreds of thousands of people across Texas, from Fort Worth down to the Rio Grande Valley. Some customers lost water altogether, forced to flush their toilets with melting snow.

By early Tuesday afternoon, Southwest Power Pool, which manages the electrical grid across 17 central and western states, had stopped ordering controlled rolling cutoffs of power service to customers as the energy supply began meeting the extreme demand, a spokesman said.

The storm also severely disrupted the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, forcing vaccination sites to close across the South and hampering the shipments of doses. In a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the administration was closely monitoring the weather and staying in touch with state and local officials, aware that vaccine doses could spoil if not kept at certain temperatures.

The brutal cold in the middle of the country seemed to defy a trend of ever-milder winters, but the frigid temperatures in Texas could be a consequence of global warming.

There is research suggesting that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the northern latitudes and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex. This allows cold air to escape to the south, especially when a blast of additional warming strikes the stratosphere and deforms the vortex.

The result can be episodes of plunging temperatures, even in places that rarely get nipped by frost.

Crews from the fire department in Abilene, Texas, fought a house fire on Monday.
Credit…Ronald W. Erdrich/The Abilene Reporter-News, via Associated Press

The death toll related to the storm that swept across the southern and central United States this week, accompanied by record-breaking cold temperatures, continued to rise on Tuesday.

In Houston, a woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was left running in a garage to generate heat, the police said. A homeless man was also found dead at an overpass. And man who was found dead on a median in midtown Houston on Monday was suspected to have died from the extreme cold, the Harris County sheriff said.

A grandmother and three children were killed in a house fire in Sugar Land, Texas, early Tuesday in a neighborhood that was without power, according to local news reports.

In southern Louisiana, a man died after slipping on the ice and hitting his head, officials said, and a 10-year-old boy died in Tennessee after falling into an icy pond. The authorities in San Antonio said that weather conditions contributed to the death of a 78-year-old man.

Slippery roads were responsible for 10 deaths in Kentucky and Texas, including a pileup in Fort Worth that involved more than 100 vehicles and killed six people. In Missouri, a 59-year old man was killed when a snowplow collided with his pick up truck on Monday afternoon.

A person who got out of a vehicle after a car crash in Houston late Monday was struck and killed.

The weather-driven destruction this week did not come solely from ice and snow; in coastal North Carolina, a tornado killed three people and injured at least 10 others early Tuesday morning, though it was unclear if it was meteorologically related to the winter storm.

A street in Austin, Texas, as much of the city was without power on Monday night.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

AUSTIN, Texas — As millions of Texans endured their second day of power blackouts caused by a devastating winter storm, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an emergency reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT, saying the operator of the state’s power grid “has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.”

Governor Abbott designated his call for an investigation and reform of ERCOT as an emergency item in the current Texas legislative session, putting it on a fast track toward enactment. The announcement came just after the Texas House speaker, Dade Phelan, ordered a Feb. 25 joint committee hearing to investigate ERCOT and determine what caused “caused the lights to go off across the Lone Star State.”

Both the governor and the House speaker said their goal is to ensure that the conditions never reoccur.

The sharply worded response from two of the state’s top political leaders came amid a fierce public backlash after millions of Texans were left without power following a storm packing record snow and single-digit temperatures late Sunday and Monday.

“Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather,” the governor said. “This is unacceptable. Reviewing the preparations and decisions by ERCOT is an emergency item so we can get a full picture of what caused this problem and find long-term solutions.”

As the operator of the state’s power grid, ERCOT has faced high demands for electricity throughout the storm and was forced to impose blackouts to distribute the power burden across the overloaded system. Hundreds of thousands of Texans have gone without power for hours and in many cases well over a day. Power outages are continuing through Tuesday.

Bill Magness, ERCOT’s president and CEO, said in an interview on Austin’s KXAN TV on Tuesday that the council is “trying to get people’s power back on as quickly as possible” but at the same time needs to “safely manage the balance of supply and demand on the grid” to avoid large collapses in the power system.

“As hard as these outages are,” he said, “they avoid a much more catastrophic situation.”

At the national level, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation said Tuesday they would jointly investigate the blackouts and electric grid failures during in the Midwest and South.

The regulators said that they would work with other federal and state agencies, utilities and others to “identify problems with the performance of the bulk-power system and, where appropriate, solutions for addressing those issues.”

A mass coronavirus vaccination site in Poplar Bluff, Mo., last month. Missouri is halting vaccination distribution for the week because of safety risks from the storm.
Credit…Paul Davis/The Daily American Republic, via Associated Press

The winter storm stretching across much of the United States disrupted distribution of the coronavirus vaccine this week, as clinics giving shots closed and shipments of the vaccine stalled with snow and ice grounding flights and turning highways dangerously slick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday warned of “widespread delays” in vaccine shipments over the next few days, particularly for those doses coming through major shipment hubs like the FedEx facility in Memphis and the UPS facility in Louisville.

Many of the closures and cancellations were in the South, where the storm was particularly fierce — and where the pace of vaccinations in several states has lagged behind the national average. Vaccine appointments have been rescheduled or canceled from Texas to Kentucky.

“It’s just not safe for people to be out. So we need this to thaw,” Mayor Steve Adler of Austin said Tuesday on CBS. “And then we’re just going to have to redouble our efforts and make sure that the vaccine that we have gets into people’s arms. But for right now, we’re on pause.”

The delays appeared likely to grow in the coming days, as the storm continued its path across the country.

In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said on Monday that vaccination distribution efforts run by the state would be brought to a halt through the rest of the week, while in Alabama, hospitals and health departments closed vaccination clinics. In New Hampshire, state officials said vaccinations would be canceled on Tuesday.

In Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan said the 3,000 vaccination appointments scheduled to be carried out on Tuesday at a downtown convention center downtown would be moved to Saturday.

“We’re going to keep the vaccines going to the maximum extent possible,” Mr. Duggan said, “but we’re also not going to ask people to be put at risk coming down in difficult driving conditions.”

In Houston, officials scrambled to deliver more than 8,400 vaccine doses on Monday after the Harris County Public Health Department building — where these vaccines were being stored— lost power and the backup generator failed, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at a news conference.

Officials ended up distributing more than 5,400 of the vaccines to hospitals in the region, to Rice University and to the county jail. After receiving guidance directly from Moderna, the remaining 3,020 vaccines were re-refrigerated and put back in storage for later administration, Ms. Hidalgo said.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news conference on Tuesday that the administration’s Covid-19 response team was in “close touch with state and local governments across the country” regarding the storm affecting vaccine distribution, and that the situation in Texas was being monitored closely.

“Mother Nature and the weather,” she said, “requires contingency planning.”

Downtown St. Louis on Monday.
Credit…David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via AP

A winter storm delivered snow and ice from Seattle to San Antonio on Monday, bringing frigid temperatures and rolling blackouts to parts of the United States that are unaccustomed to severe winter weather.

A wood-burning or gas fireplace can be helpful in staying warm when the power goes out.
Credit…Terra Fondriest for The New York Times

With parts of the country seeing record-setting chilly temperatures — including in places where coats and gloves are rarely needed — power operators and the National Weather Service have been offering tips for how people can conserve energy and stay warm at home, with or without power.

Tim Burke, president and chief executive officer of the Omaha Public Power District, asked his 300,000 residential customers to conserve energy by lowering their thermostat a few degrees, turning off any unused lights, postponing laundry and dishwashing, and unplugging devices that are not currently being used.

In a video announcing planned power outages, he showed that his office thermostat was set to 55 degrees and that there were “no lights on in our offices.”

The National Weather Service in Kansas City, Mo., also shared ways that people can avoid losing heat. They included placing rolled-up towels at the base of exterior doors or stuffing rags in cracks under the doors.

Closing curtains and blinds can also keep heat inside, the Weather Service said.

Residents should also “move all activities to a main room and close the remaining interior doors to retain heat,” the agency said, adding that residents should wear layers of loosefitting and lightweight warm clothing, and have extra clothing layers handy.

To stay warm at home, the Weather Service advises people to light their fireplace, if they have one, and use indoor-safe heaters.

The authorities also warned against running generators or cars inside to heat homes because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In Houston, the police said a woman and girl were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning and a man and a boy were hospitalized after a car had been left running in an attached garage “to create heat as the power is out.”

The police department advised that “cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building.”

The Houston Office of Emergency Management also urged people not to warm up their cars inside a garage and to make sure the tail pipe was clear.

Eating and drinking also warms up the body, but avoid caffeine and alcohol, the Weather Service said. If you have to leave your residence, experts suggest exiting through a garage or porch door to reduce the loss of indoor heat.

In Texas, advisories to boil water were sent to residents across the state, asking them to conserve as much water as they can.

A tow-truck operator removed a car stuck in the snow in Dallas on Monday.
Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times

Millions of Americans from coast to coast remained under some type of weather-related warning or advisory on Tuesday, and forecasters warned that hazardous conditions could continue later this week. Here are the forecasts for various parts of the country:

Freezing rain overnight in the New York City area changed to rain on Tuesday morning as an ice storm warning for parts of New York State and New Jersey was canceled, the National Weather Service said. Conditions should remain fair until later this week, but forecasters warned that significant snowfall could come on Thursday and into Friday.

As the weather system that swept across the country on Sunday and Monday reached north, a winter storm warning was in effect until about 11 p.m. on Tuesday for much of northern Maine. The storm was forecast to bring an additional one or two inches of snow, for a total of seven to 10 inches.

The Weather Service warned that travel could be extremely dangerous, and asked people to pack emergency supplies if they need to travel.

The weather in most of the Southeast was forecast to be relatively calm after parts of the region saw snow and ice on Monday, the Weather Service said.

Conditions in Nashville, where the airport reported many canceled flights and delays on Monday, were forecast to improve throughout Tuesday, with cloudy skies and temperatures reaching into the low 20s.

There were also reports of flurries and light snow in Georgia on Tuesday. A storm that is brewing in the plains to the west could bring some snow from East Texas to northern Louisiana and western Mississippi, along with rain to the Gulf Coast.

A new storm was expected to develop on Tuesday, bringing up to four inches of snow across portions of Oklahoma, Missouri and the Ohio Valley, according to the Weather Service.

In Texas, freezing rain was expected across the state, with ice accumulations of up to half an inch. A winter storm warning was in effect from Tuesday evening through Thursday morning, with snow accumulations of up to six inches forecast north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and up to three inches elsewhere.

Forecasters in Austin and San Antonio are warning of temperatures falling below zero again, and snow refreezing into ice. Power outages could spread as lines become weighed down with frozen ice, they said.

Various winter storm warnings and advisories were in effect for parts of the West, and the Weather Service warned that an additional storm could spread over the region on Thursday.

Areas in Washington State were forecast to receive heavy snow, with accumulations reaching up to 30 inches on Tuesday. A winter storm warning was in effect for most of the day.

Snow totals for the Central and Southern Rockies could range from eight to 12 inches, with one to two feet possible over the highest peaks on Tuesday, the Weather Service said.

In Oregon, where a winter weather advisory was in effect until midday and additional snow accumulations could reach seven inches, at least 200,000 customers were without power as of Tuesday afternoon.

“Utility outages are more widespread in the region than ever before, including during the September 2020 wildfires,” Gov. Kate Brown said on Twitter, noting that she had declared a state of emergency on Saturday to mobilize help.

Frigid air that usually sits over the Arctic has swept much farther south because of changes to the jet stream, bringing frosty weather to parts of Texas, like Dallas, that rarely get snow.
Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times

The notion that the global phenomenon of a hotter planet could be sending a shocking cold wave into the southern United States might seem nonsensical. And every cold snap can be counted on to elicit quips and stunts from those who deny the science of climate change.

But the weather patterns that send freezing air from the polar vortex plunging all the way to the Gulf Coast could, like other forms of extreme weather, be linked to global warming — which is why the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe prefers the phrase “global weirding.”

Winter storms are influenced by many factors, including the natural variability that affects all weather systems. The planet’s warming could be part of that icy blend, even while climate change is making winters milder over all.

The air that usually sits over the Arctic is now sweeping down South because of changes to the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the Northern Hemisphere and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex.

There is research suggesting that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, allowing the cold air to escape to the south, especially when a blast of additional warming strikes the stratosphere and deforms the vortex. The result can be episodes of plunging temperatures, even in places that rarely get nipped by frost.

Of course, bitter cold from the polar vortex has long been a part of the North American weather picture. Dr. Amy Butler, a research scientist at the NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory, has said that she has yet to find any long-term trend in polar vortex disruptions, which “occur naturally even in the absence of climate change.”

But Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a company that provides information to clients about weather and climate-related risk, has identified general trends in winter storms. He was an author of a paper last year in the journal Nature Climate Change that found a sharp increase in Northeast winter storms over the decade from 2008 to 2018.

“Severe winter weather is much more frequent when the Arctic is warmest,” Dr. Cohen said, adding, “It’s not in spite of climate change, but related to climate change.”

The current storm “could be one of the most costly natural disasters of the year,” he said, in part because of its unusual geography: “Texas, which is known for hurricanes, is not known for snow and cold damage” like burst water pipes.

Tents inside a make-shift migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, on Sunday.
Credit…Go Nakamura/Getty Images

Hundreds of migrants at a makeshift refugee camp on the southwestern border shivered through the night inside their tents, wrapped in donated blankets, as light snow fell and the temperature hovered around 20 degrees through the early hours of Tuesday.

“We’re trying to protect ourselves. It’s just freezing here,” said a migrant from Nicaragua named Perla, who lives with her daughter and two grandchildren at the encampment in Matamoros, just across the international bridge that connects Mexico to Brownsville, Texas.

Some migrants burned charcoal and wood to stay warm when the sun came up, according to descriptions from people at the camp. Most huddled inside their small tents or tarp-sided dwellings, while volunteer groups delivered sweaters, coats and blankets.

About 1,000 people applying for asylum in the United States have been stranded at the camp since the Trump administration introduced a policy in 2019 requiring asylum applicants to wait in Mexico for their immigration court hearings. Last year, officials sealed the border amid the coronavirus epidemic.

The low temperatures froze one of the major sources of drinking water at the camp, but a truck arrived Tuesday with water jugs. A group called Sidewalk School provided two propane heaters on Monday and planned to scatter four more around the encampment this week.

“Children have been crying because they are so cold,” said Felicia Rangel, the group’s founder.

A white school tent, where children gather for educational activities, was blown off its metal frame by the wind, Ms. Rangel said.

By Tuesday afternoon, the temperature had climbed above 30 degrees, and some boys played soccer on the basketball court in the heart of the camp.

Global Response Management, a nonprofit that runs a clinic in the camp, conducted tent checks and found no cold weather injuries such as frost bite.

“These people are used to harsh conditions. They’re very resilient,” said Sam Bishop, the nonprofit’s project coordinator. “But this inclement weather is a reminder that they need to get across, and processed for asylum like they deserve under international law.”

A tornado tore through a coastal town in southeastern North Carolina just after midnight Tuesday, knocking down homes, killing at least three people and injuring 10 others, officials said.

“We had very minimal warning,” said Edward Conrow, the director of emergency services in Brunswick County, adding that forecasters “were very surprised how rapidly the storm intensified. It is something they normally don’t see.”

He said the tornado hit at a time when “most people are home and in bed, it creates a very dangerous situation.”

Most of the damage and all of the fatalities were in the Ocean Ridge Plantation, a community located near Sunset Beach in Wilmington, Mr. Conrow said. There were no reports of anyone missing, he said.

“It is definitely a very hazardous situation with the debris,” he said.

Randy Thompson, a Brunswick County commissioner, said earlier that the tornado had led to the evacuation of some people from their homes. Shelters were being set up to help those in need, he said.

The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office posted photographs on its Facebook page that showed downed trees across roadways and homes destroyed by the storm.

It was not clear how or whether the tornado was meteorologically related to the massive winter storm that swept across the southern and central United States on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Fla., shared photographs on Twitter of destruction from an area near Damascus, Ga., a town of about 300 people in the southern part of the state, after a tornado passed through the area.

The images showed roofs ripped from some homes, windows blown out and trees scattered on top of residences. But the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said in a tweet that no fatalities had been reported.

Residents of Nebraska woke up to some of the coldest temperatures in their lives on Tuesday — as low as minus 31 degrees — and to messages from their power operators saying the companies had no choice but to implement rolling blackouts.

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented spell of arctic cold weather called the polar vortex,” Tim Burke, president and chief executive officer of Omaha Public Power District, said in a video.

The utility told its 300,000 residential customers that planned outages would affect about 10,000 customers for an hour at a time on a rotating basis. “We know how inconvenient and unfortunate it is to be without power, and we would never intentionally interrupt customers if it wasn’t absolutely necessary,” Mr. Burke said.

He asked customers conserve energy by lowering their thermostats by a few degrees, turning off unused lights and unplugging any devices or appliances that are not currently being used.

The Southwest Power Pool, which manages the electric grid in Nebraska and 13 other states, said on Tuesday morning that it was also working with its member utilities on rolling blackouts “as a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”

The National Weather Service in Omaha warned of “painfully cold weather” and dangerous wind chills in the region on Tuesday. Highs were expected to be at minus three and four degrees, with morning wind chills to between -20 and -40 degrees.

In Lincoln, Neb., it was minus 31 degrees on Tuesday morning, “making it the coldest temp recorded there in 46 years,” the Weather Service said. Residents in Norfolk, Neb., were dealing with a reading of minus 31 degrees, breaking a record there from 1924. And Omaha was reporting its coldest day since 1996 at minus 23 degrees.

Filling a pickup truck and gas cans in Tomball, Texas, on Monday. A winter storm has disrupted energy supplies and caused widespread power outages.
Credit…Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

Energy prices in the United States rose on Tuesday after a huge winter storm hit the southern and central parts of the country, with 150 million people under storm warnings. Millions of people have been left without power in freezing weather.

Natural gas futures for March delivery rose as much as 8 percent, the biggest jump since Feb. 1, when a storm hit the Northeast. Demand for natural gas has risen, but disruption from the storm means production has plummeted.

The state energy regulator in Texas said on Saturday that it was aware that local natural gas distributors “may be required to pay extraordinarily high prices in the market for natural gas, and may be subjected to other extraordinary expenses” in responding to the storm.

Oil futures jumped more than 5 percent over the weekend as the coldest weather in three decades interrupted road transportation and some wells had to shut down. On Tuesday, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, rose 1.3 percent to $60.23 a barrel, the highest price in 13 months. Futures for Brent crude, the European benchmark, fell as much as 0.5 percent but were up 0.3 percent in the afternoon. The largest refineries in the country, including Port Arthur in Texas, closed on Monday because the weather had caused power outages across the state.

“Some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, are experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions, which caused concerns for employee safety and affected production,” the Texas energy regulator said Monday.

  • U.S. stocks fell after a week of gains. The S&P 500, which reached a record high last week, lost less than 0.1 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite was down 0.3 percent.

  • The Biden administration on Tuesday announced additional relief for American homeowners struggling with payments, saying the pandemic had “triggered a housing affordability crisis.”

  • The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell slightly. In Germany, the ZEW survey of investor sentiment recorded a big jump in future expectations for the economy, but the view of the current situation worsened.

  • In Britain, the government reached its target of vaccinating 15 million people, the most vulnerable in the country, by mid-February, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to lay out a clear plan for the end of the long lockdown. The nation’s central bank has forecast a relatively strong economic rebound later in the year, but business leaders have warned that companies need to prepare to reopen and that the recovery could be impeded if they are not given enough support. The pound rose above $1.39, the strongest against the U.S. dollar since early 2018.

  • Indexes in Asia rose, with the Nikkei 225 in Japan up 1.3 percent; on Monday, it climbed above 30,000 for the first time since 1990. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong closed 1.9 percent higher.

  • Softbank’s shares closed at a record high. Last week, the Japanese company recorded huge profits in its tech investment fund amid a flurry of public offerings by companies it backs.

Austin was one of several cities in Texas that saw record-setting cold temperatures on Monday.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

It was colder across much of Texas on Monday than it was in Maine.

Houston hit a record low for a Feb. 15 of 17 degrees, breaking the previous record of 18 degrees, set in 1905. In Austin, it was just 8 degrees, breaking the previous record of 20 degrees, set in 1909. Records for the date also fell in San Antonio (9 degrees) and Dallas (7 degrees).

And the frigid blast shows no signs of letting up. The National Weather Service warned that arctic air and dangerous wind chills would remain over the central part of the United States this week, breaking even more records.

The brutal cold, especially in the South, has prompted officials to urge residents to stay home and avoid icy roads. Texas officials, concerned about millions who have lost power, have opened warming centers and deployed National Guard troops to check on residents.

In the Houston area alone, about one million people were without power on Monday night, which was expected to be the coldest night in 30 years, with temperatures falling to 10 degrees.

“To those who have lost power, I know you are frustrated, I know you’re miserable, I know you’re uncomfortable,” Lina Hidalgo, the top public executive of Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, told residents on Monday.

Yet Ms. Hidalgo said it was not possible to predict when power might be restored.

“And in fact, as much as we wish it weren’t so, things will likely get worse before they get better,” she said. “There’s a high chance the power will be out for these folks until the weather gets better, which will not be for a couple of days.”

Houston emergency management officials offered tips to help residents stay warm, even without power. They suggested using duct tape, blankets and towels to cover windows and blocking doorways with towels to stop icy drafts.

Houston fire officials said they had responded to an increase in carbon monoxide poisonings, as residents turned to generators and space heaters to stay warm. They urged residents to make sure they had installed carbon monoxide detectors.

The bitter cold has broken records that had stood for decades, from the Canadian border to the Gulf Coast. In Hibbing, Minn., on Monday, the temperature plunged to minus 38 degrees, beating the previous record of minus 32, set in 1939.

In North Platte, Neb., it was minus 29, dipping below the previous record of minus 23 set more than a century ago, in 1881. In Oklahoma City, it was minus 6, also a record.

“I’m very pleased that it seems as if the people of Oklahoma City are largely staying home,” the city’s mayor, David Holt, said. “That was obviously what we hoped they would do. And we continue to make that request. That is probably the best bet.”

The storm snarled travel across a wide region. People on Oklahoma City pitched in on Monday to help a stuck motorist.
Credit…Nick Oxford/Reuters

Recent multiple-vehicle pileups amid this year’s brutal weather have underscored the dangers of driving in winter conditions. In 28 hours last week, from early Thursday to Friday morning, the Iowa State Patrol received calls for help at 195 crashes. In Texas, six people were killed and dozens were hospitalized on Thursday in a pileup that involved more than 100 vehicles on Interstate 35.

In both states, the authorities had issued warnings about hazardous driving conditions. Drivers in Texas were confronted with slick roads and patches of ice. An Arctic front that sped across Iowa enveloped vehicles in a wintry mess of freezing rain, snow and ice.

Experts offer these tips on driving safely in winter weather:

  • Heed travel advisories, and avoid driving in inclement weather if at all possible.

  • If a driver sees a string of cars and trucks ahead crashing into each other like dominoes, Steve Gent, a traffic safety director in Iowa, has two recommendations. First, tap your brakes. Then, maneuver to avoid. “Take the ditch,” Mr. Gent said. “The worst thing you want to do is slow down and get in the pileup. We design those ditches so you can drive in, and you are not going to flip over.”

  • Drivers should avoid roadways that do not give them an out, said Will Miller, an analyst with Crash Analysis Consulting in Southlake, Texas. Avoid highways that have barrier walls on both sides, and beware bridges, overpasses and other elevated structures. They freeze more quickly and stay frozen longer than the road.

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises drivers to double-check that they understand how their vehicle’s equipment, such as anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, will perform in wintry conditions. Experts generally advise against using cruise control when ice or snow patches could crop up.

  • Andrew Gross, a spokesman for AAA, advised drivers to ensure at least “three seconds of distance between you and the car ahead of you.” That means you should be able to count at least three seconds between when the car ahead of you passes a landmark and when your car passes the same point. Slamming on brakes in ice, snow or rain should be avoided because it can lead to hydroplaning.

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