By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Dec 5 (Reuters) - People from Texas to New York were bundling up on Thursday against a winter storm that closed schools and businesses, blanketed roads and power lines with ice and threatened to disrupt road travel across a wide swath of the United States.
The southern plains and central region including Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas were especially hard hit by the storm, according to the National Weather Service.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, people scrambled to stock their cupboards as temperatures plunged. Many grocery stores reported running low on bread, milk, bottled water and snack foods by noon on Thursday.
Holly Vines, a Little Rock resident, hoped she could still find something on the shelves.
“I‘m going to get coffee, cigarettes and cat food then I‘m going to get my sable coat out of storage in case I have to sleep in it,” she said.
The governors of Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma declared a state of emergency and directed resources for the response to the winter storm, and the governor of Missouri activated the state’s 24-hour emergency operations center.
Missouri’s highway patrol readied all of its four-wheel drive vehicles to reach motorists as needed on snow-packed, roads, according to the governor’s office.
A motorist was killed in a vehicle rollover on a snowy state highway in southwest Missouri on Thursday, said Sergeant Jason Pace of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“We are seeing partially to totally snow-covered roads,” Pace said. “There are lots of slide-offs and multiple accidents related to that.”
The Oklahoma City Police Department reported that a homeless man was found dead under an overpass and was believed to have died from the cold.
Also in Oklahoma, a 5-year-old boy was killed in a crash on Thursday in Muskogee, when his mother lost control of her van on an icy bridge and rolled the van, according to the state Highway Patrol.
Utility provider Entergy Arkansas said it was bringing in an additional 6,700 workers to help with downed power lines and outages that could last a week. The company urged people to ensure they had flashlights, fresh batteries, food, water and first-aid kits.
Many roads and highways in northwest Arkansas were covered with ice. Schools, including the University of Arkansas, were closing early or canceled classes entirely. The Arkansas State Police said there were numerous reports of car accidents.
“In some locations, a glaze of ice may span several days and last into the weekend,” meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said on AccuWeather.com.
Missouri and states eastward and north to New York are likely to see more snow than ice as the wintry weather hits Thursday evening, bringing up to 6 inches (15 cm) of snow to cities including St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Albany, New York, meteorologists said.
The National Weather Service said 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) of snow was forecast for Missouri overnight and into Friday.
“This evening, we will see travel conditions severely impacted,” said weather service meteorologist Andy Foster in Springfield, Missouri.
Freezing rain and sleet will make roads treacherous in Tennessee on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
“Basically we’re going to get a bunch of cold rain on and off (Friday), then sub-freezing temperatures are going to move in,” said weather service meteorologist Angie Lese in Nashville.
The frigid weather sweeping across the Midwest and Southern Plains follows a storm that dumped up to 22 inches (56 cm) of snow in parts of Minnesota earlier this week.
After the storm passes, temperatures in parts of the central and western United States will be 10 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (5.5 to 17 Celsius) below normal through the weekend as a cold air mass spreads through those regions, the National Weather Service said.
FedEx said in a statement on Thursday, its 15 meteorologists are closely monitoring the severe winter storm moving across the country.
“We have detailed contingency plans in place to help mitigate any delays,” FedEx spokeswoman Carla Boyd said in a statement.