Sunday, May 26

Biting Cold Hits South With Unfamiliar Freeze, as Several States Declare Emergency

Extreme weather gripped large parts of the Southern United States on Monday, with several governors declaring states of emergency and officials in Texas urging residents to conserve energy.

Hazardous driving conditions hit highways in states ill-equipped to deal with icy and snowy roads, and Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi issued states of emergency. Luckily, many offices were closed for Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

In Texas, a message issued by Gov. Greg Abbott painted a worrisome picture, warning that much of the state is expected to face temperatures below freezing for “dozens of hours” this week.

Wind chills below zero were anticipated across much of the northern half of the state Monday, according to the advisory. Just three years ago a storm killed 246 people and knocked out electricity for millions.

Officials have since moved to shore up the power system. Even so, the state’s Electric Reliability Council issued an appeal, asking Texans to conserve power Monday morning by avoiding the use of large appliances and turning off lights.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which marked its 50th anniversary over the weekend, delays and cancellations piled up as temperatures plummeted to the low teens and blasts of wind whipped snow across the runways.

On one packed and long-delayed American Airlines flight to Sacramento, the pilot told passengers at 1 a.m. Monday that the line for de-icing was 15 planes long.

Around the country, many regions were experiencing very cold, if slightly more familiar, conditions for this time of year.

In Iowa, where the presidential caucuses have begun, the National Weather Service warned of “life-threatening cold.” Temperatures were hovering around 10 degrees below zero in Des Moines on Monday morning, while wind chills were forecast to dip to as low as 35 degrees below zero through Monday into Tuesday morning.

Other parts of the Midwest and the Great Plains were also experiencing dangerously low temperatures Monday morning. It was negative 24 degrees in Helena, Mont.; negative 9 degrees in Chicago; and negative 6 degrees in Omaha.

While the Northeast was spared such extreme low temperatures, snow was forecast for parts of the Mid-Atlantic through parts of northern New England over the next few days. New York City may see its first measurable snowfall in nearly two years, with about two to three inches expected to fall in and around the city, starting Monday night.

Still it was the South that was dealing with the sort of cold weather it rarely has to contend with.

In Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the site of Dr. King’s slaying in 1968, had to turn its annual King Day celebration into a virtual event, and an annual 5K run commemorating Dr. King was postponed.

In Hernando, Miss., just south of Memphis, a Walmart employee posted a warning on Facebook: “If you think about coming to Walmart for a heater WE DON’T HAVE ANY. We had some on the shelf and some on sale and they gone and also no heated blankets and I’ll keep y’all updated if we get some.”

At nearby Gateway Tire & Service Center, employees issued a Facebook appeal to customers to stay off the roads. But Greg Tutor, a salesman, said that nearby Interstate 55 was moving.

“It’s more snow than it is ice,” Mr. Tutor said, estimating local totals at about three to four inches.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation issued warnings that ice had covered roads in 30 counties.

State Representative Dan Eubanks was one of the unlucky ones. In a Facebook post late Sunday, he described being caught in a six-car pileup caused by black ice in nearby Batesville.

“Well I didn’t beat the winter storm, I guess it beat me,” Mr. Eubanks, a U.S. Senate candidate, wrote.

Across Arkansas, low temperatures Monday morning were in the single digits or teens, with wind chills below freezing. The high was expected to reach only 23 in Little Rock, and up to two inches of snow was expected in parts of the state.

The National Weather Service said that several Arkansas cities broke records on Sunday for low temperatures as well as snowfall, with North Little Rock’s low temperature of 8 degrees breaking the previous record of 10 degrees set in 1979.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation said Monday it had worked overnight to plow major highways and interstates and was working to create “one passable lane” in each direction.

Reporting was contributed by Michael Corkery in New York; Mary Beth Gahan and Shawn Hubler in Dallas; Jessica Jaglois in Memphis; David Montgomery in Austin, Texas; and Erica Sweeney in Little Rock, Ark.