Winter storm morning: Sleet continues, ice covers roads, 100,000 without power

Posted Friday, Dec. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information What to do, where to get information • If you experience a power outage, don’t assume that it has already been reported. Oncor Electric Delivery offers a couple of ways to report: Call its 24-hour customer service line at 888-313-4747, or visit http://stormcenter.oncor.com/default.html. The website also has an interactive map where customers can track outages. • Transportation Department crews will monitor highways until freezing conditions subside. Travel information is available at 800-452-9292 or www.drivetexas.org. • The Texas 211 system has information on winter weather resources, such as Warming Centers. Call 877-541-7905. • The Texas Department of Public Safety has information about winter storm planning at www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/threatawareness/winterStormPlanning.htm. • The National Weather Service’s office in Fort Worth posts the latest weather updates, including radar images, at www.srh.noaa.gov/fwd.
More information Cancellations • The Aledo, Arlington, Birdville, Burleson, Crowley, Dallas, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Grapevine-Colleyville, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Mansfield and White Settlement school districts are closed today. • All area colleges and universities are closed today. • No Tarrant County jury trials today. Postponements • The Arlington Christkindl Market will be closed today. Organizers expect to reopen at noon Saturday. • “We’re still on for now but will be watching the weather,” said Martha Earngey with the 2013 Jingle Bell Run/Walk, scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.

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This time, the much-anticipated ice storm lived up to all of the hype, dumping a layer of freezing rain and ice all over the DFW area.

Rush-hour commuters this morning will find roads covered in anywhere from 1 to 3 inches of ice, making driving to work difficult if not downright impossible.

“You may turn the wheel of your car, but it may not go the way you want it to go,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jesse Moore said. “If you can stay home, you should do so. If you have to go to work, it’s going to take awhile.”

More than 100,000 people were without power shortly before 5 a.m. today. In Fort Worth, MedStar had responded to 40 accidents between 4 p.m. Thursday and about 4 a.m. Friday.

The forecast calls for the sleet and freezing rain to end around midmorning, but temperatures were not expected to climb above freezing anytime soon.

The Arctic cold front lived up to its billing, barreling into North Texas as twilight fell Thursday and carrying freezing rain, sleet and bitter cold.

Most area school districts — including Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington — as well as colleges and universities have canceled classes.

Elevated surfaces — highway bridges and freeway overpasses — “may become impassable at times,” the weather service said.

A winter storm warning was in effect until 6 p.m. Friday. More than 1,100 flights have been cancelled at DFW Airport over two days.

Oncor, the energy company that serves about 10 million households across Texas, was bracing for outages Thursday night. At a facility in Lancaster, crews prepared backup transformers should bad weather cause mass outages.

Oncor spokesman Kris Spears said hundreds of repair crews were on standby. The company advised customers to text 66267 if they lose power.

“That is the fastest way to report an outage,” Spears said. “Once you text that number, it will take you through a registration process.”

The frigid and wet weather was the forward edge of a powerful winter storm that covered much of North America. The system dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow on parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, forcing school closures and power outages but delighting skiers who hit the slopes despite single-digit temperatures.

As it moved south, the front brought sleet and rain to a wide swath of the south-central U.S., a dangerous situation for millions of people unaccustomed to the treacherous combination of moisture and bitter cold.

The last time the temperature sank below 20 in North Texas was the first week of February 2011, said Dennis Cavanaugh, a weather service meteorologist in Fort Worth. The Super Bowl was played at what is now AT&T Stadium on Feb. 6, 2011.

“Feb. 2-5 is when we had real bad ice conditions,” Cavanaugh said. “It all fell on one day, and then it stayed below freezing. On Feb. 10, we had a low of 15.”

Cavanaugh said this latest round of ice could also stick around for a few days.

“We’re not expected to get above freezing until Sunday, and then it’s only going to be briefly,” he said. “It could certainly hang around awhile.” 

The coldest weather is expected Tuesday morning, when lows may drop to 16. By Wednesday afternoon, temperatures are expected to reach the lows 40s.

Canceled flights

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport reported that 175 departing flights were canceled Thursday alone, airport spokesman David Magana said.

American Airlines canceled about 500 flights Thursday and Friday, a number that includes arrivals and departures.

All airlines canceled about 200 departures for Friday, Magana said Thursday night. That’s about 20 percent of the Friday departures scheduled.

For travelers stranded in terminals, the staff provides toiletries, cots and blankets, he said. Concessions are open later, or may be open all night. Airport lights are dimmed for overnight travelers, and the airport intercom is lowered.

Runways were being treated by fleets of snowplows and trucks that simultaneously scrape the ice and spread de-icer. Planes are de-iced so thoroughly that they take off with the fluid dripping from their wings and flaps.

A slow ride home

Freezing rain started to fall about 5 p.m. at DFW Airport, Cavanaugh said.

The Thursday evening commute was slow, and some wrecks were reported, including a 15-vehicle rush-hour pileup on Texas 121 in Grapevine.

But the ground was still warm, and the ice quickly melted. But by 8 p.m., icy precipitation was sticking to bridges and overpasses.

In Forest Hill, seven vehicles piled up about 9 p.m. on eastbound Interstate 20, shutting down all eastbound lanes late into the night.

“It is a very busy night,” Forest Hill Chief Dan Dennis said. “People should definitely stay off the roads as much as possible.”

Capt. Charles Ramirez, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said officers were working numerous wrecks late Thursday, and most of the trouble was on icy overpasses.

But, he said, “Believe it or not, it hasn’t been too bad.”

However, officers expected more trouble throughout the night as temperatures continued to fall, he said.

Highway crews planned to work through the night, treating trouble spots, said Val Lopez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation.

Crews have treated most overpasses and would head back out as conditions worsened, Lopez said.

Fort Worth had 30 transportation and public works trucks retrofitted with sanding equipment and fully loaded in anticipation of ice, city spokesman Bill Begley said.

Area grocery stores saw a run on canned goods, prepared foods and batteries as residents got ready for the storm.

Firewood appeared to be the most popular item at many area Kroger stores, spokesman Gary Huddleston said.

“I think people are preparing for the possibility of being home for a few days,” he said.

Effect on schools

Most area school districts canceled classes for Friday, the scheduled date for some end-of-course exams under the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. Makeup sessions for English tests given Monday to Thursday must be completed by today, according to the state calendar.

Plus, this is the two-week window for end-of-course exams in algebra I, biology and U.S. history.

DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency in Austin, said that if schools close, the agency would work with districts.

Elsewhere across the state, Gov. Rick Perry has activated the Texas National Guard and deployed equipment to Wichita Falls and Sherman.

Perry issued an emergency proclamation, directing state agencies to prepare for the winter blast.

Staff writers Yamil Berard, Nick Dean and Diane Smith contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna

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