ATLANTA — A winter storm that killed two people in Louisiana and one in Houston has blanketed the South in snow and ice, causing traffic pileups, canceling hundreds of flights and prompting officials to urge people to stay indoors through Thursday afternoon, when a considerable warm-up is expected.
More than 400 flights had been canceled by Thursday morning, most to and from airports in Atlanta and North Carolina, according to the tracking site FlightAware.
Thousands of customers across Georgia and North Carolina had lost electricity, utility providers said, and officials planned Thursday morning to evaluate portions of interstate highways in Louisiana that closed overnight because of ice, officials said. State offices in parts of Georgia and Louisiana were due to remain closed Thursday for a second day, officials said.
Snow and icy conditions made roads in parts of the South and along the East Coast treacherous after a winter storm dumped snow Wednesday from the Florida Panhandle to Maine.
A swath of central North Carolina picked up more than 6 inches of snow, with some areas between Raleigh and Greensboro getting 10 inches. Some parts of New England got 6 inches.
Echoing warnings from officials — especially in the South, where governments often aren’t equipped with salt and plows — to stay off roads, retired stock car racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted that North Carolinians should stay home. He posted a photo of a stuck car attached to a line and 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 the crash but scratched the winch when he was driving too fast and “being a bit of a fool.”
Similar photos and videos of motorists in several cities sliding off ice-coated lanes littered social media.
Nearly 600 crashes were 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 warned 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 was lighter, travel could be dangerous, given the frigid temperatures, the National Weather Service said on Twitter.
Cars slide off roads
In Tennessee, which had the coldest pockets in the South, wind chills made the air feel as cold as 10 below zero.
On Thursday morning, wind chill advisories covered nearly 30 million people and included Atlanta, New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, and stretched as far south as Boca Raton and Naples, Florida.
Hard freeze warnings extended along much of the Gulf Coast into Florida, with below-freezing temperatures in Orlando and Tampa.
Forecasters said chilly air would hang around from the South to the Northeast, leaving icy roads and hazardous conditions through Thursday, when temperatures were due to begin climbing.
The governors of Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina declared states of emergency for at least some parishes and counties.