SENATOBIA, MS - It is rare for a single storm to threaten the majority of the United States with the icy road hazard. The event brought dangerous conditions to 41 states in a continuous swath from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
ICY ROADS TO THE GULF COAST: A HIGH RISK icing event is expected to impact the far southern Texas & Gulf Coast states Monday-Wednesday. A mixture of snow, sleet & freezing rain will make any travel extremely dangerous & in many cases impossible. #txwx#lawx#mswx#alwxpic.twitter.com/FqNDZEX583
But the map was no joke. As of the publishing of this post, the media-sourced death toll from this event is at 42 (many fatal accidents are not reported in news media, and therefore this figure represents the absolute minimum number). Many tragic stories are emerging, particularly from the south, where the impacts from icing are higher due to the lack of salting and most drivers inexperienced with winter weather. Near New Orleans, an 8-month old baby was killed and the mother critically injured by an icy bridge near Metarie. Another icy bridge nearby took the life of a firefighter assisting another accident victim.
The event was caused by an expansive storm system spreading precipitation across the country as a significant arctic air mass plunged southward into the Gulf of Mexico. Snow was the dominant precipitation type for all but the extreme southern portions of the event along the Gulf Coast, where a mixture of sleet, freezing rain and snow was seen as far east as the Florida panhandle. The surging arctic air was cold enough to allow for all-roads icing to within 50-100 miles of the Gulf Coast, while the coastal regions saw primarily bridge icing.
Following the precipitation, the air remained below freezing for as much as 48 hours in most southern locations, keeping the icy road threat present for days after the storm.
Media-sourced accident reports
The following is a list of the fatal accidents reported in online-searchable news media, current as of the publishing of this post:
Cut and Shoot
North Dakota (3)
Santa Rosa County
New Mexico (1)
North Carolina (1)
South Carolina (1)
West Virginia (1)
The following are county, state or city total accidents reported by law enforcement and/or emergency management agencies during the event:
San Antonio, TX
Livingston Parish, LA
Jefferson Parish, LA
The following are more notable incidents-caught-on-camera during the event:
I departed St. Louis early Monday to cover this event in the deep South, arriving at my first overnight stop at Hernando, Mississippi. The trip was cut short when I suffered a sidewall-damage flat at the hotel from a hard-to-see curb protruding into the dark parking lot. Due to the MLK holiday and the fact that I am running winter tires (which are not sold in the South), I had no way to repair the tire before the storm began. This also limited my coverage expedition to northern Mississippi, as there would be no way to make the additional distance to the Gulf coast as originally planned.
During the storm, I spent about 12 hours in the Memphis area and the I-55 corridor in northern Mississippi observing the conditions and shooting video. Other than a 30-minute period of sleet and freezing rain Monday night, the precipitation type in this region was primarily snow. I-55 quickly became very slick due to the lack of treatment and the effects of vehicles compacting the snow into a layer of ice.
The worst conditions were encountered in Senatobia, MS along I-55, where I witnessed two full-size pickups lose control and nearly cross the median into the oncoming lanes. These both occurred while I was driving, so the dash cameras captured the incidents: