Storm whirls into county

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DRC/Barron Ludlum
Jay Bascar rides his bike down East Hickory Street to get to work
during Tuesday morning's winter storm.

The southern edge of a monster line of winter storms hurled through Denton County on Tuesday morning like a game of crack the whip, with churning winds, snow and ice pellets, and the occasional punch of thunder and lightning.

The winds played it both ways, helping keep Interstate 35 partially clear, yet blowing snow to create some visibility problems. Snowdrifts blocked or partly blocked some less-traveled roads.

Roads were slick for those who braved the morning commute or ventured out in the middle of the day, although nearly every government office and school building was closed Tuesday morning. City offices opened at 10 a.m., but Denton's downtown Square was deserted.

After his crews helped distribute pipe covers to customers, landscape business owner Andre "Frenchy" Rheault headed to his office on Elm Street and saw, by midmorning, that the roads were still icy.

"There are cars stuck trying to make it up the hill," he said.

Denton police closed State School Road after more than 20 cars had run off into a ditch, said police spokesman Ryan Grelle. That was one of several trouble spots around the city. From 11 p.m. Monday to 3 p.m. Tuesday, he said, police had worked 43 calls to assist motorists who had trouble on the roads. WEDNESDAY CLOSINGS

For up-to-date details, check DentonRC.com and facebook.com/dentonrc. Area closings for Wednesday, announced as of Tuesday evening, include: •Denton County offices•Denton ISD•Argyle ISD•Aubrey ISD•Krum ISD•Lake Dallas ISD•Pilot Point ISD•Ponder ISD•Sanger ISD•Denton Calvary Academy•Immaculate Conception Catholic School•Liberty Christian School•The Legends Academy•Selwyn College Preparatory School•Winfree Academy•Texas Woman's University•University of North Texas•Opening at 10 a.m.: Corinth city offices

Grelle said the city had seen 24 minor accidents and one hit-and-run, but no serious injuries. No major accidents were reported in Denton by Tuesday afternoon.

Denton road crews started working at 4 a.m. to sand city roads and bridges.

A team of about 30 people were working just before noon, using all five city sand trucks and several more flatbed trucks to treat the roads, said Keith Gabbard, superintendent of streets and drainage.

"The roads are slick," he said. "It sure would be nice if people would just stay home."

Crews will continue working in shifts around the clock as long as they are needed, he said.

Snow subsided by 8 a.m. as the upper-level disturbance moved swiftly east and out of Texas, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Fano. Some isolated patches of snow fell briefly during the day, as the winter storm warning expired and was replaced by a hard freeze warning.

"We don't usually issue those until it's 10 degrees or below," Fano said, adding that temperatures that cold can freeze exposed pipes and cause other problems.

Temperatures were expected to drop to 6 degrees overnight Tuesday; with wind chill, it would feel more like 10 or 12 degrees below zero, he said.

Wednesday's high is expected to only reach 18 degrees, dipping to 5 degrees at night before climbing to 20 degrees on Thursday. On Friday, temperatures are expected to rise to a high of 32 degrees.

Denton County Judge Mary Horn decided Tuesday afternoon that county offices would be closed again Wednesday, after consulting with emergency management coordinator Jody Gonzalez and other county officials.

"The sheriff's department and Jody Gonzalez and his staff have been out driving the roads and there is still a lot of ice," Horn said. "There have been some winds but not enough to dissipate that ice, and with temperatures forecasted … we decided to give it another 24 hours."

Ice began covering streets in the wee hours Tuesday, leaving Denton County roads covered in white by 4 a.m. Two systems - an arctic front and an upper-level disturbance - collided over North Texas to set up a thunder-sleet storm, Fano said.

"Between the thunder and the sound of sleet hitting the windows, it was hard to sleep through it," Fano said.

By 5 a.m., almost all school districts in northern Denton County had announced closings, in addition to county offices, a number of child care centers and most private schools. The University of North Texas, Texas Woman's University and North Central Texas College also closed all their campuses.

As the lunch hour approached, Carroll Boulevard was still covered in a thick sheet of ice and slush. Normally one of Denton's busiest streets, the boulevard was nearly empty, and the few motorists out were driving slowly.

Brave souls walked along Mulberry Street, taking special care when crossing the downtown streets. Traffic in downtown Denton was scant.

Charlie Foster, owner of Ramen Republic, drove from Argyle to Denton to open his restaurant at 11 a.m.

"I went out and shoveled the sidewalk, and I am ready to work," he said, adding that though it was quiet, he hoped people would get out later.

Even Golden Triangle Mall announced it would close for the day due to icy streets and little to no traffic.

Power was out for about two hours for about a dozen residences along Atlas Street, according to Lisa Lemons, spokeswoman for Denton Municipal Electric.

"We had a limb with ice on it that fell," Lemons said.

Outside the city, CoServ Electric had one outage at about 2:40 a.m. Tuesday near FM423 and State Highway 121 that affected about 1,050 customers. Another 300 customers were affected near Chadwick Farms in Roanoke, according to spokeswoman Kat Gloria.

Outages for Oncor were also small and localized in Denton County, primarily in Oak Point and The Colony, according to spokesman Danny Hodges.

"On the east side of Lewisville Lake, it [the storm] picks up extra energy from the lake," Hodges said. "Those are some of our problem spots."

Travel along Interstate 35E between Lewisville and Denton slowed to a crawl as several tractor-trailers trudged slowly up hills only to find themselves sliding backward with the weight of their cargo. What was normally a 20-minute drive along the 15 miles between Denton and Lewisville stretched to more than an hour and a half for motorists Tuesday.

Patrick Patey, spokesman for the Salvation Army, said the Denton shelter was not full overnight Monday into Tuesday and still had eight vacancies. The shelter, at 1508 E. McKinney St., will be open during the day - 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. - as a warming station as long as the bitter cold remains.

"We will also serve hot soup, bread, crackers and fruit cups along with hot coffee, hot tea and hot cocoa for lunch," Patey said. "There will be movies, games, books and fellowship during this time."

Our Daily Bread also opened early so people could come in from the cold. About 20 people were drinking hot drinks as a small crew prepared the noon meal, director Jenny Hawkins said.

Area grocers were busy as customers stocked up for the storm, with representatives for both Albertsons and Kroger saying they didn't anticipate problems restocking, even with the weather.

"We anticipated a weather event," said Gary Huddleston of Kroger. "Our distribution center is in Keller, and with a dairy in Fort Worth, we are able to serve our stores fairly quickly."

By Tuesday evening, a number of area school districts had announced their campuses would remain closed Wednesday.

Denton school officials monitored weather and road conditions throughout Tuesday and made the decision shortly before 5 p.m. to keep school doors closed for another day.

The district's transportation department and other school officials felt it was "it was better to close school tomorrow than to have the kids out on the roads," Sharon Cox, district spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

The closures and poor weather conditions forced Carter BloodCare to cancel two local blood drives, including one at the University of North Texas and another at Linda Tutt High School in Sanger.

"We make commitments to hospitals for the amount of units to supply, so we have to make that up," said Linda Scardis, a Carter BloodCare recruiter for Denton and nearby cities.

Staff writers Lucinda Breeding, Lowell Brown, Dawn Cobb, Donna Fielder, Bj Lewis, Karina Ramírez, Britney Tabor, Mike Trimble and Matthew Zabel contributed to this report.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com.


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