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Texas rocked by deadly ice storm

Governor Greg Abbott confidently proclaimed the power grid is functioning well and asked fellow Texans to stay off the roads as the storm passes.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — As a winter storm rolls southward through Texas for a second day, officials advised people Tuesday to stay off the icy roadways, which have been blamed for at least one death.

The National Weather Service has extended its winter storm warning, first issued Sunday, through 9 a.m. on Thursday. An area stretching from the Rio Grande on the U.S.-Mexico border through Central Texas and into the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is seeing a mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow.

Along the Austin and San Antonio corridor, ice as thick as a quarter to three-quarters of an inch may accumulate. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is projected to receive a heavier dose of ice, with the possibility of an inch settling across the region.  

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning covering most of the State of Texas and parts of Oklahoma. Jan. 31, 2023. (National Weather Service via Courthouse News)

In a press conference Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott warned prospective drivers of the dangerous conditions.

“Approximately 1,600 roads are impacted,” the Republican governor said. “[The Texas Department of Transportation] has used more than 1.3 million gallons of brine and other material to treat the roadways.”

Hanging over the governor's update were the power grid issues experienced during Winter Storm Uri in 2021. For Texans anxious about potential blackouts, Abbott said that icing may lead to a loss of electricity for some but the power grid as a whole is “functioning just fine as we speak.” 

Peter Lake, chairman of the Texas Public Utilities Commission, echoed the governor, saying there will be adequate energy supply across the grid.

“The reforms that were put in place are working,” Lake said. “They worked last winter, they worked in a record-setting summer, they worked last month and they are going to work this week.”  

In preparation for the storm, Abbott increased the readiness of the State Operations Center of the Texas Division of Emergency Management as forecasts worsened. The operations center is responsible for assessing and communicating emergencies across the state.

The winter storm has been the cause of car accidents across the state. In Austin, one person was killed in a 10-car collision in the early morning hours on Tuesday. The Austin Fire Department reported Tuesday it has responded to over 90 car accidents, three of which included its own vehicles, and two fires, both caused by space heaters. 

A multi-vehicle fatal accident in Austin, Texas, during an ice storm on Tuesday Jan. 31, 2023. (Jay Janner /Austin American-Statesman via AP)

In a plea to Austin-area residents, the fire department wrote on Twitter: “Please, STAY HOME AND OFF THE ROADS, give space heaters plenty of space, never use your oven to stay warm, and keep generators outside.” 

Space heaters can be a vital tool for keeping warm, but also pose some risks. The National Fire Protection Association recommends keeping any flammable material at least three feet away from a portable heater, furnace or fireplace. According to the association, 13% of all home fires between 2016 to 2020 were caused by heating equipment.

As the winter storm descended upon the region Monday, school districts across Oklahoma and Texas canceled after-school events or opted for an early dismissal. As of Tuesday, schools and universities have canceled classes through Wednesday. Depending on roadway conditions, many school districts could reopen on Thursday.  

Winter weather conditions are expected to persist throughout the week, with some relief expected to come Thursday. By next week, temperatures across the state will increase into the 60s.

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