`Ice Friday' bears down on Texas, much of Midwest

1:34 PM, Dec 6, 2013   |    comments
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 DALLAS (AP) - As snow and freezing rain blanketed normally sun-swept North Texas, residents accustomed to warmer temperatures appeared to heed warnings on what one hardware store manager called "Ice Friday," staying off nearly impassable roadways and out of a skin-stinging cold.

Earlier this week, many in Texas were basking in spring-like temperatures hitting the 80s. But by Thursday, Texas was facing the same wintry blast that's hitting much of the U.S., bringing frigid temperatures, ice and snow.

Freezing rain started to pelt highways and power lines Thursday evening, leaving a quarter-million customers without electricity Friday morning. Schools canceled classes a day before, many businesses gave workers the day off, and frigid roads and sidewalks were mostly empty.

In the Dallas area, agencies and residents are still haunted by the fiasco of a frozen Super Bowl week two years ago, when an inadequate response to a winter storm crippled the region and left visitors stranded on impassable highways.

This time, all of North Texas mobilized before an expected half-inch of freezing rain began to come down. Temperatures are forecast to stay below freezing after the rain passes, meaning residents will have to contend with icy roads through the weekend.

One Home Depot in Dallas was running out of firewood and ice melt a day early.

"It's almost like a Black Friday," said store manager James McGilberry, "but I guess we'll call it an Ice Friday."

Road crews were continuously dumping sand on largely empty highways, and utility company Oncor reported 250,000 people were without power in the Dallas area, where temperatures had fallen into the 20s and some places saw light snow.

Police in Arlington, about 20 miles west of Dallas, reported that icy roads were a factor in the death of one driver whose car hit a truck pulled to the side of the road. Three other traffic deaths in Oklahoma and Indiana were blamed on the weather. More than 1,000 flights in the Dallas area were canceled by airlines early Friday. Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines and its regional carrier, American Eagle, had canceled 962 flights by 8:30 a.m., according to flight tracking site Flightaware.com.

The National Weather Service issued winter storm and ice warnings through much of Friday for parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee. Some parts of the Midwest expected to see several inches of snow. The storm stretched from South Texas, where anxious residents bagged outdoor plants to protect them from the cold, up into northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes.

Cold weather has already dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin and draped many communities in skin-stinging cold. The temperature in parts of North Dakota on Thursday was a few degrees below zero, but wind chill pushed it to nearly 40 below.

The North Texas Tollway Authority had its 79 trucks stationed Thursday to cover 850 miles of highways with sand, and the city of Dallas went to a condition known as "Ice Force One," readying its own army of dump trucks to handle city roads.

Dallas and Fort Worth school districts lead a list of suburban and outlying North Texas school systems, colleges and universities that canceled their Friday classes. Numerous government offices also closed, but the Dallas Marathon's organizers had not made a decision whether to cancel Sunday's race.

Debbie Jones was at a supermarket Thursday afternoon collecting the ingredients for a warm winter meal in advance of Friday.

"I'm going to make a gumbo, then try and lay it in for tomorrow," Jones said.

In West Texas, many truckers had already pulled off Interstate 27 on Thursday, said Leilani Pierce, a manager at a Flying J Travel Plaza in Lubbock.

Students at Oklahoma State University were evicted by school officials from a makeshift tent community they set up ahead of Saturday's rivalry football game against the University of Oklahoma. Debbie McCarthy, the university's athletics coordinator of special events, told the Tulsa World that officials were worried about propane heaters starting a fire.

The city of St. Louis opened its first cold-weather shelter of the season and warned residents to dress in layers inside and outside if need be.

The same system swept through the Plains Thursday and dumped 1 to 2 feet of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. It forced cancellations in places far more accustomed to snow: Officials in Rapid City, S.D., said the weather was too cold for ice skating, and temperatures in Montana and Idaho fell below minus 25 degrees.

 

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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