More than 1,500 flights canceled; icy weather makes road travel difficult, too
NEW: North Carolina's most famous driver slides off road, hit tree
Snow and icy conditions have made roads in parts of the South and East treacherous, with two people reported killed in Louisiana weather-related accidents, officials said.
A fire official was fatally injured Wednesday in West Feliciana Parish when a pickup truck pulling a trailer lost control on an icy road and hit the chief, who was investigating a previous crash, said Louisiana State Police.
The second death occurred in New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
A winter storm dumped snow Wednesday from the Florida Panhandle to Maine as it left bone-chilling and icy conditions.
A swath of central North Carolina has picked up more than 6 inches of snow, with some areas between Raleigh and Greensboro getting 10 inches. Some areas in New England received 6 inches.
“Snow will continue to push through eastern portions of North Carolina and Virginia through the evening hours, finally coming to an end after midnight,” said CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said there were more than 1,600 accidents in the state. One of the world’s most famous recently retired race car drivers narrowly avoided being in one.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted a warning for other North Carolinians to stay off the roads. He posted a photo of a stuck car with a line coming from a winch on his vehicle.
“5 minutes after helping these folks I center punched a pine tree. All good. Probably just needs a new alignment,” the winner of 26 races in NASCAR’s top division said. Earnhardt tweeted again to clarify he was not in crash but scratched the winch when he was driving too fast and “being a bit of a fool.”
Cooper said more than 30,000 home and businesses lost power. Residents of the state should stay home or drive with caution, he said.
“The snow was beautiful today, but it will be treacherous tonight and below freezing temperatures during the night and in the morning. Means any kind of commute in the morning can be extremely hazardous,” he said. “We would advise people to stay off the road if at all possible.”
More than 1,500 US flights have been canceled and even more delayed, 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 across the region have been 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, Texas, 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, tweeting: “Houston is still closed, Fort Bend. Go back to bed.”
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.
As it moved across the South, the storm system created difficult driving conditions.
Cars slide off roads
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.
Video from CNN affiliate WGCL showed vehicles stopped on icy Atlanta streets, including a city transit bus that apparently couldn’t go any farther on a slick stretch.
Just west of Atlanta, motorists were cautiously navigating one paved lane of the multilane Interstate 20, 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. 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.
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Judson Jones, Keith Allen, Lindsay Benson, David Williams and Dave Hennen contributed to this report.