The lack of power and safe water for millions of people in Texas may be compounded on Thursday by a band of foul weather stretching from the Rio Grande to New York.
The National Weather Service said a major winter storm would bring freezing rain, snow and temperatures that were “much below average,” a gut punch for Texans who have resorted to stoves, barbecue grills, gasoline generators and their vehicles to keep themselves warm.
Days of glacial weather have left at least 38 people dead nationwide, made many roads impassable, disrupted vaccine distribution and blanketed nearly three-quarters of the continental United States in snow.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas warned residents to brace for continued misery.
“Most of the state will be below freezing,” Abbott said in a media briefing Wednesday, adding that a respite from the cold snap would come only on Saturday.
The storm forced the postponement of a planned trip by President Joe Biden on Thursday to a Pfizer facility in Michigan that produces the coronavirus vaccine.
“It’s going to be a mess,” Laura Pagano, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said of the storm, which was expected to extend from the Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Several inches of snow and sleet were forecast for the Washington area. Duke Energy warned its customers in the Carolinas that there could be 1 million power outages in the days ahead, and Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, gave a similar warning, telling residents to keep their phones charged and to prepare themselves for the coming snow and ice.
Several inches of snow were expected in the New York City area, where Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that the weather had delayed shipments of coronavirus vaccine doses and prevented officials from scheduling more than 30,000 vaccination appointments, complicating a rollout already constrained by a limited supply of doses.
But the loss of power was perhaps the most brutal consequence of the storm. Early Thursday at least 1 million customers nationwide were without power, the overwhelming majority of them in Texas, according to Bluefire Studios, a company that tracks outages.
Crucial infrastructure in Texas was failing even as the state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said power had been restored to 1.6 million households on Wednesday.
Water has also emerged as a major problem, with almost 7 million Texans, including the cities of Arlington, Austin and Houston, advised to boil their water for safety. About 263,000 people were affected by nonfunctioning water providers.
Hospital officials at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center scrambled on Wednesday night to fix a heating system that was failing because of low water pressure. They were forced to seek portable toilets and distribute bottles of water to patients and employees so they could wash their hands.