Tornadoes, historic cold across US kill at least 7, disrupt Covid-19 vaccinations

East Austin residents push a car out of the snow on Feb 15, 2021, in Austin, Texas.
East Austin residents push a car out of the snow on Feb 15, 2021, in Austin, Texas.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Killer tornadoes in the US South-east and historic subzero cold as far south as Texas were on Tuesday (Feb 16) blamed for seven deaths and massive power outages that cancelled Covid-19 vaccine inoculations and threatened to disrupt vaccine supplies.

Treacherous weather will maintain its grip on many parts of the United States from Tuesday through Friday, with up to 10cm of snow and freezing rain expected from the southern Plains into the North-east, forecasters said.

"We're calling it Storm System No. 2, with very similar placement to the previous storm," said meteorologist Lara Pagano of the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Centre in College Park, Maryland. She was referring to a system that blasted the nation through the long Presidents Day holiday weekend, dumping snow and ice from Ohio to the Rio Grande.

An Artic air mass that descended over much of the country pushed temperatures to historic lows on Tuesday, Pagano said.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a reading of minus 35 deg C on Tuesday shattered a record set in 1978 of minus 27 deg C.

In typically toasty Dallas-Fort Worth, minus 17 deg C broke a record set in 1903 of minus 11 deg C.

"That's what people are waking up to this morning: It's just dangerous," Pagano said.

Crippled by more than 4.4 million power outages in Texas alone, authorities shut down inoculation sites and scrambled to use 8,400 vaccines that require subzero refrigeration before they spoiled after a backup generator failed, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

Doses were rushed to area hospitals and Rice University to be injected into the arms of people already at those locations and who did not have to travel on slick roads.

Icy roads were blamed for one of the four deaths tied to the bitter cold. The others were identified as a homeless person and two carbon monoxide poisoning victims, said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo.

In the South-east, a low-pressure system that developed along the Arctic front created fuel for storms that unleashed at least four tornadoes, said meteorologist Jeremy Grams of the weather service's Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma.

One ripped through the Florida Panhandle and two through south-western Georgia on Monday.

The fourth, most severe twister, left three dead and homes flattened after it swept overnight through North Carolina's coastal Brunswick County in the state's south-eastern corner between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the local sheriff's office said early on Tuesday.

After a brief lull on Tuesday that may allow authorities to assess damage, rough weather - including potential twisters - was expected to return on Wednesday into Thursday, Grams said.

"Those very same areas could be impacted - that will include tornadoes and damaging winds," he said.