Storm whirls into county

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DRC/Barron Ludlum
Traffic along University Drive moves at a snail's pace Tuesday morning during the ice and snow storm.
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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.

Denton County Judge Mary Horn decided Tuesday afternoon that county offices would be closed again today, 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.

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 today.

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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