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Biting Cold Hits South With Unfamiliar Freeze, as Several States Declare Emergency

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Extreme weather gripped large parts of the Southern United States on Monday, with ice and snow hampering plans to commemorate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and several governors declaring states of emergency.

Communities generally unaccustomed to major winter storms, from Tennessee to Texas, canceled or postponed events honoring Dr. King.

In Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the site of Dr. King’s slaying in 1968, announced it would close its doors and deliver its special programming virtually. Normally, the museum offers free admission on the holiday.

In San Antonio, an annual M.L.K. Day walk was canceled, with officials citing “dangerously low temperatures and potentially hazardous walking conditions.”

Even those events that chose to push ahead did not escape disruption.

Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas N.A.A.C.P., was scheduled to give a keynote address at a Houston area breakfast event, but was forced to give up as he made the drive down from his home in Austin.

“It just got so bad on the highway,” Mr. Bledsoe said after returning home, describing how ice and sleet had piled high on his windshield. When he tried to use his de-icer, he said, “I couldn’t do that because I guess the water was frozen.”

Officials in Texas were especially wary about the storm, hoping to avoid a reprise of the catastrophe that unfolded in the state in 2021, when a winter storm killed 246 people and knocked out electricity for millions.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas painted a worrisome picture, warning that much of the state was expected to face temperatures below freezing for “dozens of hours” this week. So far, though, the state had avoided serious problems.

Even so, the state’s Electric Reliability Council asked Texans to conserve power Monday and Tuesday morning by avoiding the use of large appliances and turning off lights.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which marked its 50th anniversary over the weekend, delays and cancellations piled up as temperatures plummeted to the low teens and blasts of wind whipped snow across the runways.

On one packed and already long-delayed American Airlines flight to Sacramento, the pilot told passengers at 1 a.m. Monday that the line for de-icing was 15 planes long.

Even with Texas on edge about the winter weather, television viewers were not happy when an NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth cut into its programming Sunday night with 1:52 left in what was about to be the Detroit Lions’ first home playoff football win in 32 years.

“In one of the most embarrassing moments in memory for the TV station that originated the local news ‘weather segment,’ @nbcdfw aired what appeared to be a routine report with forecasts, maps and wind chill for 2 minutes until abruptly returning to the postgame,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy wrote on X.

Both the meteorologist and anchor apologized later in the broadcast.

Around the country, many regions were experiencing very cold, if slightly more familiar, conditions for this time of year.

In Iowa, where the presidential caucuses have begun, the National Weather Service warned of “life-threatening cold.” Temperatures were hovering around 10 degrees below zero in Des Moines on Monday, while wind chills were forecast to make it feel as low as 35 degrees below zero into Tuesday morning.

Other parts of the Midwest and the Great Plains were also experiencing dangerously low temperatures. It was minus 24 degrees in Helena, Mont.; minus 9 degrees in Chicago; and minus 6 degrees in Omaha.

While the Northeast was spared such extreme low temperatures, snow was forecast for parts of the Mid-Atlantic and northern New England over the next few days. New York City may see its first measurable snowfall in nearly two years, with two to three inches expected to fall in and around the city, starting on Monday night.

Still, it was the South that was dealing with the sort of cold weather it rarely has to contend with. Governors in Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi issued states of emergency. Luckily, many offices were already closed for the holiday.

Across Arkansas, low temperatures Monday were in the single digits or teens, with the high expected to reach only 23 degrees in Little Rock.

The National Weather Service said several Arkansas cities had broken records on Sunday for low temperatures as well as snowfall, with North Little Rock’s low of 8 degrees breaking the previous record of 10, set in 1979.

In Mississippi, officials warned that ice had covered roads in about a third of the state.

State Representative Dan Eubanks was one of the unlucky ones. In a Facebook post late on Sunday, he described being caught in a six-car pileup caused by some black ice in Batesville, Miss.

“Well I didn’t beat the winter storm, I guess it beat me,” Mr. Eubanks, a U.S. Senate candidate, wrote.

In Hernando, Miss., just south of Memphis, a Walmart employee posted a warning on Facebook: “If you think about coming to Walmart for a heater WE DON’T HAVE ANY. We had some on the shelf and some on sale and they gone and also no heated blankets and I’ll keep y’all updated if we get some.”

Reporting was contributed by Michael Corkery in New York; Mary Beth Gahan and Shawn Hubler in Dallas; Jessica Jaglois in Memphis; David Montgomery in Austin, Texas; and Erica Sweeney in Little Rock, Ark.

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