‘Black ice’ still a danger as freezing drizzle leaves area

02/11/2014 9:18 AM

02/13/2014 7:39 AM

Tarrant County was spared late Tuesday from the steady freezing drizzle that resulted in fatal wrecks Monday night and Tuesday morning.

But officials urged motorists to be careful.

“In Tarrant County, there still could be black ice, so motorists should be on alert,” said Natalie Galindo, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation office in Fort Worth. “Crews are monitoring bridges and overpasses in this area.

“In counties to the north of here, we have crews treating bridges and overpasses.”

Only a trace of precipitation was recorded Tuesday at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. But forecasters at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said the temperature was expected to dip below freezing after dark. It was 33 at 8 p.m.

Once the mercury gets to 32 (an overnight low of 27 was forecast), any moisture still on the pavement could quickly become black ice. The hazard was blamed for scores of wrecks and four deaths late Monday and early Tuesday in Tarrant and Dallas counties.

It was a stark contrast to the ice storm the first week of December, when ice accumulated on a Thursday night and paralyzed North Texas for days.

Unlike black ice, the icy crust in December was as white as snow and evolved into a chunky “cobblestone” texture.

Road conditions were not so obviously treacherous Monday night and Tuesday morning, but the very nature of black ice concealed the danger.

“The idea is, when you get ice on the roadway, you don’t need a big event like last December for it to get bad,” said Dan Huckaby, a meteorologist in the Fort Worth office.

“You just need a little freezing drizzle, even just a trace of it, and you can have numerous accidents. And, often, [black ice] just looks like wet pavement.”

But this is Texas, so the weather is bound to change dramatically. Wednesday should be mostly sunny with temperatures in the upper 40s, the weather service said. Daytime temperatures will be in the 60s on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

And forecasters say highs could be in the lower 70s Sunday.

Deaths Tuesday

Subfreezing temperatures and precipitation left icy spots on North Texas roads and highways Tuesday morning, leading to the deaths of two motorists and causing dozens of wrecks.

A Kennedale man was killed shortly before 5 a.m. when his vehicle hit another car and struck a guardrail, throwing him from the vehicle on Southeast Loop 820 in Forest Hill. The driver was then hit by another vehicle, Forest Hill Police Chief Dan Dennis said.

The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office identified the man as Jeffrey Rozas, 31.

Five others were injured. Two were taken to hospitals, and three were treated at the scene, a MedStar official said.

Less than an hour later, an Azle man was killed in northwest Tarrant County near the Parker County line. Kenneth Jones, 56, lost control of his vehicle in the 5500 block of Cattlebaron Drive and crashed into a tree, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department reported. Jones was pronounced dead at the scene.

“This was a classic ice-related, overpass-related accident,” said Terry Grisham, a sheriff’s spokesman.

Road-sanding crews arrived shortly after deputies, Grisham said, “making the bridge surface passable for emergency units and recovery of the accident victim and his vehicle.”

A 911 call came at 5:34 a.m. from the OnStar service “of a passer-by who came on the wreck right after it happened,” Grisham said.

“We got the ambulance folks on the same line and dispatched everything at one time,” Grisham said.

Monday night deaths

Two people died Monday night — a Dallas firefighter who fell from an icy bridge while working at a wreck in Dallas County and a Northwest High School student who was in a wreck near the school.

Katelyn ShyAnn Hooper, 16, of Haslet, a student at Northwest High School, was killed, and Brianna Christensen of Haslet was seriously hurt when their car and a pickup collided on slick Farm Road 156 near Texas 114 in southwest Denton County, authorities reported. Christensen was taken to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.

Both teens played on the Northwest girls basketball team.

The driver of the other vehicle, a Ford pickup, was identified as April Seleska, 31, of Denton. She was seriously injured and was also taken to Harris, authorities said.

The wreck occurred about 5:30 p.m. Monday, according to Sgt. Lonny Haschel, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety in North Texas. Seleska lost control of her pickup, which crossed the center line and crashed into the girls’ car, a Ford Contour.

Late Monday, Dallas firefighter William Scott Tanksley, 40, fell from an icy highway overpass as his crew responded to a major wreck on Interstate 20 in southwest Dallas. Dallas police said Tuesday that Tanksley was hit by an oncoming car that was sliding on the ice, according to news reports.

Hundreds of accidents across North Texas were blamed on the ice overnight.

Fort Worth police records showed 363 wrecks between 4:30 p.m. Monday, when the freezing drizzle accelerated, and midnight. By comparison, there were 50 wrecks during the same period a week ago. A week before that, there were 30.

Several school districts north and west of Fort Worth closed Tuesday, and many Tarrant County schools started late.

At DFW Airport, about 150 departures were canceled Tuesday, or about 15 percent of the flight schedule.

‘Always be prepared’

Forecasters said they expect temperatures to rise to about 48 on Wednesday, but they warned that patchy freezing fog could develop overnight, possibly causing more slick spots on exposed surfaces and roadways.

Michael Peters, a Transportation Department spokesman, said people should avoid travel during freezing rain or drizzle. If they must drive, he said, they should slow down and allow plenty of room to stop.

Haschel said that despite the volume of wrecks during the ice event, most North Texas drivers do “adjust their driving” to the conditions.

“The takeaway here is always be prepared,” Haschel said. “A difference of 1 or 2 degrees in temperature can make all the difference. Mother Nature is in charge, so it all boils down to operating your vehicle in a safe manner and driving defensively.”

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