Brace yourself! Big Freeze heads East after leaving 11 dead and thousands of flights cancelled in South and Midwest
A late fall cold snap that has gripped much of the country, causing a handful of deaths and has forced people to deal with frigid temperatures, power outages by the thousands and treacherous roads, is not going away any time soon.
Weather forecasters say the powerful weather system has Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic in its icy sights next.
Temperatures in Montana and South Dakota were more than 20 degrees below zero during the day Saturday while much of the Midwest was in the teens and single digits.
A Virginia Emergency Management spokeswoman, Laura Southard, said the storm had the potential to be an ‘historic ice event’.
‘This forecast is very concerning to us,’ Ms Southard said. ‘I’ve worked multiple disasters, but I’ve never worked an ice storm with a forecast like this. It’s just really important for everybody to take extra precautions.’
Residents have been warned of dangerous driving conditions and power outages. Up to an inch of snow and sleet were forecast on Sunday, with a further half-inch of ice on Monday.
Ms Southard told Hampton Roads the forecast was being likened to a January 1978 storm that caused massive power outages from ice and sent roofs collapsing under the weight of up to 30in of snow.
Wind chill readings could drop as low as 50 below zero in northwestern Minnesota, weather officials said.
Icy conditions were expected to last through the weekend from Texas to Ohio to Tennessee, and Virginia officials warned residents of a major ice storm likely to take shape Sunday, resulting in power outages and hazards on the roads.
In California, four people died of hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay area and about a half-dozen traffic-related deaths were blamed on the weather in several states.
Icy, treacherous sections of Interstate 35 north of Dallas were closed for hours at a time over the last day as tractor-trailers had trouble climbing hills, wrecks occurred and vehicles stalled, authorities said.
Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Releford said road graders and more sand and salt trucks were being sent to try to ease the ice problems.
‘We’re sending in everything we’ve got,’ said Releford.
About 75,000 customers in the Dallas area were without power Saturday, down from a peak of more than 270,000. Oklahoma utilities reported more than 7,500 power outages across the state and western Arkansas.
Tina Pacheco, her husband and two friends were traveling through Texas on their way to Mexico when the ice-laden interstate became so treacherous that traffic came to a standstill.
They were forced to spend Friday night in their pickup truck. They parked on a service road and kept the truck running for heat.
“We couldn’t go anywhere,” she said, adding, ‘It’s a good thing we had gas.’
Jody Gonzalez, chief of Denton County Emergency Services, said about 200 people were in shelters in the Sanger area after getting stuck on the highway. People in that area of I-35 were driving through ruts in 4-inch-thick ice, he said.
Some 400 departing flights from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport were canceled, about half of the usual schedule, the airport said. About 3,330 passengers had stayed overnight in the terminals.
Among those stranded in Dallas was Narasimhan Rangarajan of Chennai, India, who was on his way to see his brother in Salt Lake City, Utah.
He laughed that his vacation had been ‘not so good so far’. He said he hoped his flight Saturday night to Salt Lake City would take off.
Freezing rain and sleet are likely again Saturday night in Memphis, Nashville and other areas of Tennessee before the storm starts surging northeast.
‘It looks like we’re going to be stuck with this for one, two, maybe three days,’ said Memphis attorney Sam Chafetz, who was going home early to enjoy some bourbon-soaked sweet potatoes left over from Thanksgiving.
‘I’m not afraid of the ice and snow, I’m afraid of the other drivers who don’t know how to drive in it,’ Chafetz said.
At least 11 people have been killed in the ice storms, including four in San Francisco who died from hypothermia.
Dramatic images came out of Texas this morning, as fire crews winched a truck out of Lewisville Lake, after it slid off the bridge at 5.30am yesterday.
Sonar equipment had to be used to locate the truck and the unnamed driver reportedly died in the accident, WFAA reported.
The icy conditions are set to linger and spread, with snowfall expected in Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon and frigid conditions due for Virginia and Washington DC by Sunday.
More than 260,000 residents in parts of Texas, and 30,000 in Arkansas were left without power or heat, and many have been warned to prepare for further outages over the next fortnight.
Oncor Power Company, based in Texas, said it could take two weeks to repair damage caused by ice storms.
‘One cubic foot of ice weighs about 62lb,’ Mike Smith, of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, said. ‘When you add 10- to 15-mph windsto all of that weight, the lines snap or break. Also, tree limbs sag on to the lines or fall on o the lines causing massive power failures.’
Annual events including the Dallas Marathon and St Jude’s Marathon in Memphis, Tennessee, where temperatures were due to drop to 18F (-7C) today, have been canceled.
About 25,000 runners were due to take part in Sunday’s marathon, but with thousands of flights canceled since yesterday many were unable to travel.
Jody Gonzalez, chief of Denton County Emergency Services, said about 200 people were in shelters in the Sanger area after getting stuck on the highway. Drivers had been trying to get through 4in thick ice on I-35.
Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Releford said more sand and salt trucks were being sent to try to ease the ice problems.
‘We’re sending in everything we’ve got,’ she said.
With widespread flight cancellations in Texas, about 3,330 passengers had stayed overnight in Dallas Fort Worth airport, where a further 350 flights have been canceled already this morning.
A plane was still trapped on an icy runway on Saturday morning. It had landed safely but then couldn’t move from the frozen runway at about 9pm on Friday night.
Passengers were finally bussed off the plane about an hour after it landed in Dallas, Fox 4 reported.
Dallas officials were also forced to cancel their holiday parade for the first time in 26 years and a Christmas parade in Nashville was also called off.
The ice storms could also have an impact on Christmas deliveries, with FedEx, which has its international hub in Memphis, closely monitoring the situation with its team of meteorologists.
Delivery delays may occur in areas where the storm caused unsafe driving and flying conditions, Scott Fielder warned.
Ice had built up on the windshields and roofs of parked cars throughout Memphis on Friday. Law enforcement reported an increase in traffic crashes, and scattered power outages affected more than 3,000 people.
Residents in the city were told to prepare for a few days without power, prompting them to rush to stores to stock up on groceries, buy electricity generators and fill their cars with gas.
Western and central Kentucky were under winter storm warnings due to last until early Saturday. With warmer temperatures expected in eastern Kentucky, forecasters issued a flood watch into Saturday morning.
The National Weather Service said a wind chill advisory is in effect today for parts of northeast Arkansas and the Missouri boot heel. Forecasters say wind chill readings between zero and minus-5 degrees may occur.
Freezing rain and sleet are expected again by Saturday night in Memphis, Nashville and other areas of Tennessee.
Drivers were warned to stay off Tennessee roads yesterday, where meteorologists predicted a layer of ice as thick as three-tenths of an inch could form on roads and bridges.
In Virginia officials warned residents of a major ice storm likely to take shape tomorrow, resulting in power outages and hazards on the roads.
Three people died in traffic accidents on roads in Texas – the region hardest hit by the weather – where temperatures plunged below freezing on what residents dubbed ‘Ice Friday’.
But eight other deaths across the country have been attributed to the extreme weather – from the three who died from hypothermia in San Francisco to the woman who died in a car crash on icy roads in Indiana. The cold front proved fatal as far south as Arkansas where a 62-year-old man was killed from a falling tree, weighed down with ice.