Ice thick on roadways

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City sand trucks wait Thursday at Denton’s fleet services lot on Texas Street.

Icy storm cause minor outages in Denton County

Sleet and freezing rain are expected to end in Denton County by noon, according to Matt Bishop, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"But I don't see a warm up -- maybe a degree or two," Bishop said.

Most of North Texas saw more sleet than freezing rain overnight and into Friday morning, and that's what limited the power outages, he said.

The cold air blanketing North Texas and Denton County is itself covered by a blanket of warmer air in the atmosphere. When the snow falls through that warmer blanket, it melts and refreezes into sleet as it nears the ground. But, if it refreezes when it hits the ground, that becomes the freezing rain.

"That's when you see that clear, solid sheet of ice," Bishop said.

The weather service depends on spotters to know for sure whether sleet or freezing rain is hitting the ground. The radar at Denton Enterprise Airport recorded "unknown precipitation" for much of the night.

Another round of cold air and precipitation are expected Saturday night into Sunday, Bishop said, but accumulation should be light, perhaps 1/10th inch.

Road crews will have to work for a few days without temperatures getting above freezing, which happened in February 2011 when the Super Bowl came to North Texas.

"While it's unusual to get this cold for this long, and it's not a normal pattern, it happens from time to time," Bishop said. Denton Municipal Electric saw two minor outages overnight that affected about 20 customers each. Spokesman Brian Daskam said crews were able to restore power within an hour.

CoServ also saw two outages, one that affected about 1800 customers in Frisco, McKinney and Allen, and another that affected 30 in Prosper. About 7 a.m., the electric cooperative received a report that a transformer may have blown in Little Elm, affecting 524 customers. Crews were on their way to restore service. Denton Municipal Electric saw two minor outages overnight that affected about 20 customers each. Spokesman Brian Daskam said crews were able to restore power within an hour.

For Denton County, Oncor reported a small outage in Corinth that affected less than five customers. Most of its other outages were reported in the east side of the metroplex. Police radio traffic has started picking up in Denton County as residents began trying to drive the ice-covered roads at 6:30 a.m. today.

Major power outages have centered mostly south in Dallas County, according to Oncor, with as many as 225,000 without power earlier this morning. Winds combined with several inches of ice are causing tree limbs to fall and cause power line issues.

A heat lamp caused an early morning garage fire resulting in $1,000 worth of damages, said Kenneth Hedges, spokesman for Denton Fire Department.

The fire, located in the 2400 block of Sherwood, was small, he said, and was caused by a heat lamp the residents had on in the garage try to keep their pipes from freezing due to the extreme cold. 

No one was displaced and no injuries were reported. 

Hedges said they only respond to major wrecks and so far, there hasn't been many of them.

Since noon Thursday, Denton police have responded to 29 minor accidents, two major accidents with unknown injuries. Officers have been called to assist 117 stranded motorists, including some who slid off the road and needed a truck to pull them back.

Officers also responded to 35 traffic hazard calls where a vehicle has stopped in the middle of the road and is causing potential issues with traffic movement.

According to city of Denton spokeswoman Lindsey Baker, city crews sanded bridges and arterials all night, but with the continuing precipitation, most of it was covered up. They are continuing to work through the day sanding the city's thoroughfares.

The A-train is currently experiencing significant delays. Delays are expected to continue through the morning. Passengers are encouraged to take caution in parking lots and on platforms, expect delays throughout the day, and dress accordingly. DCTA Connect bus service will not operate this morning because road conditions are currently too treacherous for travel.

With all school and university campuses closed as well as a number of government offices, many are choosing to avoid getting on major thoroughfares.

However, the few who do venture out are needing assist by police and fire. Police and sheriff's deputies responding to calls were finding themselves stuck along some roads.

The precipitation that has covered North Texas in ice and slush and downed trees is near its end. But, says Dan Shoemaker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, “I don’t think the problems are over, even though the precipitation pretty much is.”

First: Even when this pushes to the east within the next two hours, temperatures aren’t expected to get any warmer than they are now — in the mid-20s in Denton County, at best.

A second round of precipitation is expected Saturday, though this one isn’t likely to bring any accumulation, says Shoemaker. The moisture simply isn’t as deep.

It might hit above freezing, just barely, Sunday. But on Monday comes a secondary surge of cold air that’ll drop temperatures down to 16 early Tuesday morning.

Downtown Dallas hasn’t been immune from problems pummeling the Dallas-Fort Worth area - which has seen up to 3 inches of sleet overnight.

Just after three this morning Dallas Fire Rescue responded to heavy flames shooting up from the sidewalk at 1530 Main Street, in front of The Joule hotel. Turns out there was a fire in the electrical vault beneath the sidewalk due to a blown transformer.

Two hours later, that flame has become a billowing black smoke as firefighters let the fire burn.

Roads are slick all over. And in Fort Worth, Interstate 35W and Interstate 30 has been shut down due to ice-covered roadways.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit is running limited operations this morning, according to spokesman Mark Ball.

Right now, DART light rail is operating only as follows: 8th & Corinth to Mockingbird on Red Line, 8th & Corinth to Mockingbird on Blue Line, Buckner to Victory on Green Line and Mockingbird to Victory on Orange Line.

“Bus shuttles connect the other stations,” says Ball. “This may change as weather conditions change.”

The city of Dallas sends word its offices will open at 10 a.m. Right now it’s at Ice Force 1 with 38 trucks and 100 personnel treating the roads. 

As of about 1 a.m. this morning, 10 accidents had been reported with at least nine stranded motorists.

An accident at Hobson Lane and Country Club Road involved three vehicles and left one person injured with a possible broken arm. The other eight accidents were minor, officials said.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, both businesses and school campuses were closing across the region as many began to hunker down for an ice storm.

Ted Ryan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, said the icy rain was exactly what forecasters expected by mid-day Thursday. And though the freezing rain will diminish in intensity after sunrise, the issue is the temperature.

“Temperatures will stay below freezing. Ice that falls [Thursday] night will stay on the roads,” Ryan said. “The roads will be bad for two, maybe three, days.”

Ryan also said some power outages would be likely, with the accumulated ice likely to cause trees and tree branches to fall on lines.

At 3 p.m. Thursday, the leading edge of the main area of precipitation extended from Paris to Dallas-Fort Worth to Comanche, according to the weather service.

Ice had begun to accumulate Thursday on elevated surfaces in western and northern portions of Dallas-Fort Worth where temperatures were falling below freezing. Bridges and overpasses began icing up in Cooke County by mid-day as temperatures fell below freezing.

Precipitation intensity was expected to increase substantially overnight with a strong short wave from northern Mexico headed into the region, bringing moderate to heavy freezing rain along a narrow northeast to southwest swath. Accumulations were expected to be more than a half inch along that swath, according to meteorologists, who added that areas to the north of Dallas-Fort Worth would have more travel issues.

A second wave of precipitation Saturday into Sunday was expected to be light but to arrive with another push of arctic cold air, which would keep temperatures below freezing throughout the weekend.

On Thursday, Denton County emergency officials began checking and rechecking equipment, vehicles and generators, stockpiling water and blankets, and staying in contact with the American Red Cross.

“Our main three concerns are stranded motorists who can’t get anywhere on the highway, power outages — not just for a short period of time but for a long duration — and the amount of debris across the county we have to deal with after the storm is over,” said Jody Gonzalez, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

Gonzalez said officials were making sure the equipment would start and run smoothly, as well as checking generators across the county. He also noted communicating with the Red Cross about the possibility of shelters for stranded motorists.

“One of the most difficult things we have to deal with is if we have a stranded motorist and we can’t get to them. No. 2, we can’t get a bus out to get them to a shelter as the bus would have the same amount of problems their vehicle did,” Gonzalez said.

He encouraged people to stay off the roads if at all possible, but for those who must travel, he recommended making sure the vehicle has a full tank of fuel and plenty of blankets, water and food supplies. Gonzalez said even though motorists may think they can drive on ice and snow just fine, the problems they encounter on the highways could be miles ahead of them and leave them stuck out on the roads anyway.

Texas Department of Transportation officials said they would be treating many of the bridges in the region with anti-icing materials through the weekend.

The Dallas and Fort Worth districts have stockpiles of “chat,” a sand and salt mixture, and salt based de-icers prepared for winter conditions. TxDOT uses anti-icing materials at bridges, ramps and overpasses before and after freezing conditions, according to a news release.

With both the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University canceling classes Friday, there will be no Denton County Transportation Authority shuttles, officials said.

Officials with DCTA’s bus and rail operations are paying close attention to the weather and making the preparations to limit any effects to service, spokeswoman Kristina Brevard said.

“On the rail operations side we will have our heaters on the [rail] switches, and our rail staff will be staying in hotels here in Lewisville so they will have easy access to the maintenance and operations facility,” she said. “On the bus side, that is more of a wait-and-see to determine if there is any need for a delayed start.”

The only thing that could affect A-train rail service is a loss of power for an extended time since that would affect signals, Brevard said.

“As far as passenger communication, we have an inclement weather passenger information plan in effect,” she said, adding that DCTA would keep people updated if cancellations or other changes occur.

STAFF WRITERS Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, Megan Gray, Bj Lewis and Dawn Cobb contributed to this report.

The Dallas Morning News also contributed to this report.


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