Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Monday, July 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Winter Storm Landon hammers Midwest, South

Missouri and Ohio are digging out from heavy snow and sleet, while Texas' power grid is expected to see record usage a year after catastrophic failure.

(CN) — Most of the country is still recovering Friday from Winter Storm Landon, which dumped massive amounts of snow, sleet and freezing rain from Texas to New England beginning Tuesday night and lingering into Friday morning for the East Coast.

The St. Louis region, which averages 17 inches of snow per year, got between 8 and 12 inches, most of which fell on Thursday after a mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow pelted the area Wednesday.

Schools canceled classes Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The St. Louis County and St. Louis City courts were closed Wednesday and Thursday, while the Eastern District of Missouri federal court remained closed on Friday.

The Missouri Highway Patrol reported more than 2,600 calls related to the storm as of 10 p.m. Thursday. Westbound Interstate 70 was closed for several hours Thursday night into Friday morning after three tractor-trailers were involved in an accident in Warrenton, Mo., which is about 60 miles west of St. Louis.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson activated the National Guard to aid first responders. Guard members, and even local television crews, helped free stranded motorists in the St. Louis area.

Hundreds of flights continued to be canceled at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis on Friday as crews worked to clear runways.

While snow hammered the central and northern part of Missouri, the southern third dealt with ice, including Springfield, which received a quarter of a quarter inch of frozen accumulation.

Complicating cleanup is the Missouri Department of Transportation being down more than 400 employees statewide due in part to illness and labor shortages. A spokesperson for MODOT would not specify what parts of the state were most affected by the shortage, only that the department was employing all resources to clearing the roads.

The weather hasn’t helped. Blowing snow slowed clearing and cold temperatures limited the effectiveness of road treatment chemicals. MODOT officials believed a sunny forecast for Friday and warmer temperatures over the weekend will help those efforts, but urged people to stay home for another day to give crews a chance to clear the road.

Thursday’s fluctuating precipitation left road crews in the Cincinnati area helpless, as rain changed over to sleet and freezing rain, and then into snow overnight as temperatures continued to drop.

Many of the major highways in the area were at least partially closed for portions of Thursday afternoon and evening, and while conditions improved somewhat Friday morning, the Ohio Department of Transportation urged residents to stay home.

Most schools decided to close preemptively on Thursday before the winter weather began, and students will once again be at home on Friday, with many districts opting for remote learning days.

All Thursday afternoon flights out of the Cincinnati International Airport – located in Hebron, Kentucky – were canceled, and according to the airport’s website, most early morning Friday flights were also canceled.

The National Weather Service dropped its winter storm warning for the Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky area and replaced it with an advisory early Friday morning, but more snow is expected before noon.

As of Thursday night, counties in southwest Ohio saw sleet and snow accumulation between 2 inches in Hamilton County and up to 6 inches in Miami County. Ice accumulation was less than a quarter inch in the northern Kentucky and southwest Ohio counties that reported it.

Under Ohio law, county sheriffs can declare snow emergencies to limit travel, while in neighboring Kentucky, cities are able to declare their own advisories. At least 17 counties in the central portion of the Buckeye State were under a level 3 snow emergency overnight, which limits road travel to emergency personnel.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency on Thursday ahead of the storm, and also called in the National Guard.

Power outages have become a major concern because of the amount of ice accumulation on Thursday, but as of Friday morning, Duke Energy reported just under 4,000 outages for customers in Ohio, Indiana and northern Kentucky.

In Texas, the storm stoked fears of a repeat of last year’s deadly storm that collapsed the state’s power grid.

Many Texans stocked up on supplies leading to the storm leading to long lines and empty shelves in grocery stores. In Austin, the storm proved to be milder than the storm in 2021. The city got a mix of sleet and snow on Thursday making travel dangerous.

But even though no further precipitation is expected Friday, a record electricity demand is expected, fueling concerns over a another grid failure after customers went without electricity for days last year.

Brad Jones, the CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, told the Texas Tribune that 72,000 megawatts of demand were expected Friday morning. That would surpass last February’s roughly 69,000 megawatts of demand before the grid faltered.

He said the difference this year is ERCOT has a much larger cushion of power available to the grid, with around 81,000 megawatts of power generation available.

Keeping the lights on has become a political issue in the state’s gubernatorial race.

At a press conference Tuesday, Republican Governor Greg Abbott seemed to backtrack from his statement in November when he said, “I can guarantee the lights will stay on.” But he did remain confident that the statewide power grid would hold up.

Up to 70,000 customers had lost power in Texas, mostly in the northern part of the state. Those outages were caused by iced-over or downed power lines, not a grid failure.

Abbott’s Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, embarked on a  “Keeping the Lights On” tour of the state this week to mark the anniversary of last year’s freeze.

“Abbott failed to prepare us for a completely preventable disaster. Seven hundred Texans died because of it. As governor, I will fix the grid and never allow Texans to freeze to death in their own homes,” O’Rourke said on Twitter.

Texas officially states that 246 people died from the power grid failure last year, though some sources claim the number is actually well north of 700.

The lack of power, in subfreezing temperatures, led to frozen and broken pipes, causing some to go without water for days. Some were forced to gather snow to flush toilets and clean dishes.

Kelsey Jukam and Kevin Koeninger contributed to this report.

Follow @@joeharris_stl
Categories / Environment, National

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.