December 4, 2013

Cold weather arrives, but the worst is yet to come

Aledo is the latest high school to postpone its football playoff game as freezing rain promises to make roads treacherous.

The much publicized arctic cold front arrived overnight, dropping temperatures from 79 Wednesday to 35 this morning — and the worst is yet to come.

As a preemptive move, American and American Eagle had already cancelled 196 flights on Thursday, according to the aviation website, FlightStats.com.

Meteorologists are confident that rain developing northwest of Fort Worth Thursday morning will move across Tarrant County later in the day. Temperatures should be around freezing by 5 p.m. and will drop overnight into the upper 20s.

“Friday, we expect people will wake up to ice on the ground,” said Dennis Cavanaugh, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

A winter storm warning for Dallas-Fort Worth goes into effect at 6 p.m. Thursday and remain in place until 6 p.m. Friday.

“It could be pretty dangerous travel by Friday morning,” National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Bishop said. “There could be upwards of a quarter-inch of ice. There could be power outages, but I really can’t say how much there will be.”

The wintry weather has put transportation workers and school districts on alert, sent residents scrambling for firewood and other cold-weather goods, and forced the rescheduling and postponing of some high school football games and holiday events for the weekend.

Aledo High School officials announced this morning that its playoff football game against Wichita Falls, scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Northwest ISD Stadium in north Fort Worth, has been postponed.

No makeup time has been announced. And Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School has moved its TAPPS Division I title game from Friday to Tuesday.

Others hope the frigid temperatures won’t include precipitation.

“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 morning in Fort Worth.

Once the temperature drops below freezing Thursday night, it might not rise above freezing until Monday or Tuesday, meteorologists say.

Temperatures could be as low as 18 on Friday night in DFW. About 110 miles to the northwest, Wichita Falls could see single-digit readings.

“Our forecast has it staying cold through the middle part of next week with low temperatures getting into the teens,” Bishop said.

There’s a 90 percent chance of freezing rain overnight Thursday, dropping to a 50 percent chance of freezing rain and/or snow Friday. A wintry mix is also possible Saturday and Sunday.

Ready to mobilize

The Texas Department of Transportation has seven stockpiles of de-icing materials spread throughout the Fort Worth district, with sanding trucks standing by at each, an official said.

“It takes five minutes to fill a vehicle with materials,” department spokesman Val Lopez said. “We have the ability to mobilize quickly.”

On Wednesday, supervisors were discussing which materials to use for the variety of conditions the storm could bring, Lopez said. Bridges and overpasses will be pre-treated, if possible, with the same materials.

“We can use either rock salt designed for commercial applications, salt-based de-icer, liquid de-icer or sand,” Lopez said. “We also can mix them into ‘chat,’ a combination of salt and/or sand and/or de-icer.”

At home, residents should protect outdoor water faucets with covers.

“That’s the big item,” said Lewis Walker, manager of Westlake Ace Hardware in Arlington. “Those and frost cloths for plants.”

Horticulturists say that if plants can’t be brought inside, they should be covered with blankets and watered before the freeze hits.

Because power outages are possible — a quarter-inch of ice is enough to snap lines in breezy conditions — residents should have candles and flashlights on hand.

And meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh said that just in case it gets really bad, residents should stock up on provisions and be prepared to stay at home for a few days.

“I can’t say that’s likely to happen, but what’s the harm in planning for it?” he said.

‘Just a question of when’

Predicting when precipitation will fall is always tricky in North Texas.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, forecasters warned that freezing rain could coat freeways with ice. The result? Just some cold rain.

“It’s very common that we’re on the transition zone between rain and ice,” Cavanaugh said. “It usually happens once or twice each winter.

“But unlike the last time, we know we’re going to be cold enough; it’s just a question of when the precipitation arrives. If it were to arrive earlier, it might be more rain than ice,” Cavanaugh said. “But if we get below freezing a few hours earlier than we’re now forecasting, it could also be worse.”

Like his fellow TV forecasters, KTVT/Channel 11 meteorologist Larry Mowry said forecasting ice for viewers is always a challenge.

Mowry said TV meteorologists need “to better communicate the uncertainties in the forecasts” when they tell viewers about possible weather scenarios.

Winter weather in North Texas offers no certainties, Mowry said.

“You can’t say with 100 percent it’s going to happen until it starts to happen,” he said.

With that caveat, Mowry said he expects some areas to see more ice than others.

“In some areas of North Texas, it’s not going to be that bad,” Mowry said. “If you live in Mineral Wells, Jacksboro and Bowie, it’s probably going to be really bad. Here in the metro area, it’s going to be a little harder to predict how bad it’s going to be.”

‘Thank you, Twitter’

School districts no longer rely solely on radio and TV to spread the word on whether schools will be delayed or closed.

At Carroll schools, officials remind parents that they will be alerted of any closures by telephone, email and social media.

“Thank you, Twitter,” said Jayme Rodriguez, the district’s assistant director of communications and marketing.

Rodriguez said Carroll posts alerts on Twitter, where it has 3,600 followers, and has a mobile app where people can access information.

Clint Bond, spokesman for the Fort Worth school district, said its app “will be the first place that we post anything.”

That ties into studies showing that people typically have their smartphones nearby and use them to get information.

If classes are canceled because of the weather, Bond said, people will find out on a number of platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, the district’s Charter Cable Channel 30 and traditional media. Decisions are usually made between 5 and 5:30 a.m.

“This is not a decision that is taken lightly,” Bond said.

Staff writers Terry Evans, Diane Smith and Sandra Baker contributed to this report.

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