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14 confirmed dead due to Tennessee winter storm, as Oregon reels from deadly barrage of ice

At least 14 deaths in Tennessee have been linked to a snowy, frigid storm, as bitterly cold weather continued impacting the U.S. from Oregon to the Northeast

Jonathan Mattise,Adrian Sainz
Thursday 18 January 2024 20:22 GMT

At least 14 deaths in Tennessee have been linked to a storm system that blanketed the state in snow and sent temperatures plummeting as bitterly cold weather kept an icy grip Thursday on a swath of the U.S. from Oregon to the Northeast.

Tennessee officials updated the state's death toll at midweek after the storm dropped more than 9 inches (23 centimeters) of snow since Sunday in parts of Nashville, where only about half that amount falls in a given year. Even after the snow tapered off, temperatures plunged below zero (minus-18 Celsius) in parts of the state, creating the largest power demand ever across the seven states served by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Forecasters also warned that a new, thin coating of ice could form Thursday in much of Tennessee, where the storms have forced some schools and government offices to close.

Near Portland, Oregon, ice slowly began to melt in areas south of the city as warmer temperatures and rain arrived Thursday. But the National Weather Service issued a new weather advisory through Friday that warned of freezing rain and gusting winds of up to 40 mph (65 kph) for parts of the greater metropolitan area and southwestern Washington. Most Portland area school districts canceled classes for a third straight day due to slick roads and water damage in schools from frozen, burst pipes.

On Wednesday, a power line fell on a parked car in northeastern Portland, killing three people and injuring a baby during an ice storm that made driving in parts of the Pacific Northwest treacherous.

Local officials in Tennessee have begun offering early insights into how the storm turned deadly. Among those killed were a box truck driver who slid into a tractor-trailer on the interstate, a man who fell through a skylight while cleaning off his business's roof, and a man found below a deep bluff at a state park who didn't survive.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said it also had investigated three fatal car wrecks caused by the storm, more than 100 wrecks involving injuries and more than 200 others in which no one was hurt.

Shelby County, which includes Memphis and is the state's largest county, saw the most deaths, five.

State and local officials have so far largely refused to release many of the details surrounding the deaths, citing privacy concerns for the families involved. This includes declining to share names and circumstances surrounding the deaths. Tennessee’s Department of Health also refused to confirm accounts provided by local authorities of deaths likely tied to the 14-death total.

Cory Mueller, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Nashville, noted that another cold spell is expected this weekend, making Monday's rainy, above-freezing outlook the first good chance for significant melting.

“At least in Tennessee, it takes a little bit to get the roads cleared up,” Mueller said by phone. “With the cold temperatures, that led to the snow staying on the roads much longer.”

Around Portland, driving and even walking had become virtually impossible as ice coated roads and sidewalks. Icicles dangled from roofs and cars, and ice encased branches, plants and leaves like thick glass.

Thousands of residents have been without power since Saturday in parts of Oregon’s Willamette Valley after the ice storm caused extensive damage. Oregon’s governor has already issued a state disaster declaration for Lane County, home to Eugene and the University of Oregon.

Schools in nearby Springfield have been closed through Friday. The ice storm cut through Eugene, leaving one side badly damaged and the other mostly untouched, said Jamie Kenworthy, a real estate broker with United Real Estate Properties.

One tree hit the back of her house, Kenworthy said, but so far it’s been too icy to check the roof for damage.

“We lost power on Saturday, and we were told yesterday that it would be over two weeks before it’s back on,” she said. “We do have a generator that we got last year, and right now it’s running an oil plug-in heater. We also have a natural gas stove, and I’ve been running two of the burners to try to help heat up the house.”

District officials say 70% of their school buildings are still without power, and some have been damaged. Day shelters have been established in two district schools to offer meals to community residents and staff members who are among the 12,000 residents still without power.

Freezing temperatures spread as far south as North Florida on Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said.

It was 5 degrees in Chicago (minus 15 Celsius) and 6 degrees (minus 14.4 Celsius) in Detroit — significantly colder than Alaska’s capital of Juneau, where it was 18 degrees (minus 7.8 Celsius).

In western New York, the weather was blamed for three deaths in three days. Two people apparently died while clearing snow, and a third was struck by a vehicle while brushing snow from his car, officials said Wednesday.

Five people were struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 81 in northeastern Pennsylvania after they left their vehicles following a separate crash on slick pavement.

And in Mississippi's capital city, thousands of households were dealing with low water pressure Thursday, another setback for Jackson’s long-troubled water system.

Pipe breaks accelerated Wednesday when the frozen ground began to thaw, causing the ground to expand and putting pressure on buried pipes, Jackson water officials said. The water system experienced increased pressure due to what officials called a “deliberate misinformation campaign” on social media that claimed the city would shut off water. People responded by filling their bathtubs, causing demand to spike beyond a level the water system could support, Jackson water manager Ted Henifin said.

Henifin said officials were working to restore water pressure to about 12,000 impacted customers.

Memphis’ power and water company, meanwhile, asked homes and businesses Thursday to avoid non-essential water use due to high demand and low water pressure, citing undiscovered and unrepaired leaks. Memphis, Light, Gas and Water said it has repaired twenty-seven broken water mains since Saturday.

Joshua Phillips was walking his dog Maddie on Thursday in Memphis as cars crawled by, skidding and sliding. He said he had shoveled snow on his back patio and driveway, since recoated with a thin layer of ice.

Phillips said he helped a man push his car, which was stuck in the ice.

“What I’m more concerned about are the people who are unhoused and are outside in storms like this and don’t have any place to go and don’t have the proper social services," Phillips said.

___

Sainz reported from Memphis. Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Michael Goldberg in Jackson, Mississippi, Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky, and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho contributed to this report.

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