A highly unusual southern winter storm is set to bring icy conditions all the way down to the Gulf Coast Thursday night, according to the National Weather Service, ushering in potentially dangerous conditions to areas where winter weather is usually a once-in-a-generation event.
A winter storm warning is in effect for all of south Texas, including cities like Corpus Christi and Brownsville, where measurable snow has only fallen twice since 1898.
The main threat in the area is expected to be sleet and freezing rain, which will likely glaze roadways overnight, making travel “very hazardous or impossible,” in south Texas, according to the National Weather Service, while cities farther north like Austin and San Antonio could experience light icing with minor impacts.
Winter weather advisories are also in effect farther east along the Gulf Coast, including southeast Louisiana, coastal Mississippi, coastal Alabama and even the extreme western portion of the Florida panhandle, where hazardous road conditions are also possible due to ice.
The biggest impacts from the winter storm will likely be in coastal areas of the Carolinas, according to the National Weather Service, with the system coming just over a week after western areas of the Carolinas bore the brunt of a winter storm that swept through much of the eastern United States.
An ice storm warning is in effect for coastal areas of southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina, including Myrtle Beach, where freezing rain could lead to up to half an inch of ice accumulations, according to the National Weather Service—more than enough to snap power lines and cause tree branches to fall.
The conditions are due to an arctic air mass dipping far to the south, which will interact with areas of low pressure that bring precipitation.
“Commerce will likely be severely impacted,” the Newport/Morehead City, North Carolina, National Weather Service office said in a bulletin. “If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency.”
What To Watch For
The winter weather is not expected to lead to widespread power outages in Texas, like what happened in last February’s devastating winter storm. The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot) claims 321 of its 324 electric generation units and transmission facilities have passed inspections to meet new weatherization standards.
The South is particularly vulnerable to winter storms due to infrastructure which is in large part not designed to handle icy and cold conditions. Last year, millions in Texas were left without power or access to heat after the state’s electricity generation systems froze in the extreme cold, while more sporadic power outages were spread throughout the Southeast, where travel was crippled for days. Thursday night’s winter storm is not expected to be anywhere near as extreme as last year’s, but only a minute amount of icing can cause headaches in the region. Last February, for example, a surprise freezing rain event in New Orleans during morning rush hour caused crashes on roadways throughout the city, despite only a minimal amount of precipitation falling.
The eastern U.S. has dealt with a series of winter storms this year following an abrupt pattern flip from December, which was the warmest in the U.S. on record. Temperatures are expected to remain below average across the East for at least the next week, according to the Climate Prediction Center.
Major Winter Storm To Impact Over 100 Million—These States Could Be Hardest Hit (Forbes)
A winter storm will hit Texas — bringing back memories of last year’s power grid failure (Washington Post)
Officials Don’t Know When Power Will Be Back In Texas (Forbes)