Forecasters warned that an arctic blast will knock out power by coating parts of the South and Midwest with ice and send temperatures sinking by as much as 50 F Thursday.
The worst of the ice storm should stretch from Texas through Arkansas, the boot heel of Missouri and parts of Tennessee and Kentucky. Some places could get a half-inch or more of ice, enough to weigh down power lines and snap tree branches.
“Just prepare, plan and hunker down once this starts later tonight,” said Tom Niziol, an expert for The Weather Channel.
Kevin Roth, a lead meteorologist at the network, said that the region faced a “good 12 to 14 hours of freezing rain and ice” as an arctic air mass pushing south from Canada collides with moisture streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico.
The rough weather will be accompanied by jarring drops in the temperature. In Dallas, it was almost 80 F on Wednesday and will be in the 30s on Thursday night. In Lubbock, Texas, the high Tuesday was 77, and the forecast low for Friday night is 10.
A winter storm alert was posted for the Dallas area from 6 p.m. Thursday until 6 p.m. Friday.
Farther north and west, people faced extreme cold and snow. Temperatures could dip to minus 20 or worse in the northern midsection of the country, forecasters said. Snow totals could also approach 3 feet in northeastern Minnesota, where the weather has contributed to hundreds of traffic collisions around the state.
Colorado homeless shelters opened extra beds as temperatures in Denver were expected to drop just below zero through Friday but remain below 20 through the middle of next week. The storm dumped several inches of snow in Denver, and parts of Colorado’s mountains could get up to 3 feet by the end of the day.
Some Rocky Mountain ski resorts surpassed 100 inches of snow for the season on Wednesday.
Chicago could plunge from the mid-50s on Wednesday to the low teens by Friday night. Snow accumulations of 4 to 8 inches are possible from southern Missouri to northern Ohio through Friday night.