Roads clear as sun shines

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Al Key/DRC
Ice was melting off roads Tuesday in Denton, but there was still plenty of the frozen stuff on University Drive, as well as the vehicles traveling it.
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Denton-area residents emerged into the sunshine Tuesday as icy roads began to thaw, stores began to restock their shelves and businesses began to get back to normal after five straight days of frigid temperatures.

Most government offices and many local schools planned to be open today, but the University of North Texas announced late Tuesday night that it would open at noon. Texas Woman’s University announced its Denton campus would remain closed today.

Dubbed “Icemageddon” by some, the winter storm was among the most severe to hit the North Texas area in recent memory, even surpassing the winter storm that struck in 2011 when the Super Bowl was in town.

“That was a whole lot more snow,” said Denton County Emergency Management Coordinator Jody Gonzalez, referring to the Super Bowl storm.

“This was pure ice, creating issues on I-35 and other areas.

“This is something I hadn’t seen in 15 years, of that magnitude,” he said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety reported that more than 3,000 personnel spread tons of sand and de-icer with more than 1,000 dump trucks, 30 bulldozers and more than 250 loaders working in the region hit by the winter storm that moved in Thursday night.

In Denton and Denton County, crews worked round-the-clock to keep roadways sanded and to respond to motorists stranded in the icy conditions.

Patches of dangerous ice remained Tuesday, however, and were expected in some areas again this morning after freezing temperatures overnight. But temperatures were expected to reach almost 40 degrees, allowing ice to perhaps melt for good.

 

Storm impact

Denton Fire Department Battalion Chief Chuck Goodman said he believes the Super Bowl storm was worse, based on the number of calls received by the fire department.

From Feb. 1-5, 2011, when the Super Bowl storm hit, the fire department responded to 386 incidents including 93 water main breaks and 26 ice-related falls, reports show.

From Thursday through Tuesday, the duration and aftermath of the latest storm, fire personnel responded to four accidents, six burst pipes and 23 ice-related falls, some of which resulted in broken bones.

Officer Ryan Grelle, spokesman for Denton police, said over the past five days, officers responded to 77 minor accidents, 13 major accidents, 172 traffic hazards and assisted 390 motorists.

Grelle said he wasn’t able to pull data for 2011, but he said this year’s storm was worse because there was more ice in the Denton area.

“The impact to Denton was much worse now compared to 2011,” he said via e-mail Tuesday morning.

 

Planning for the next one

Now that Denton County has thawed from the first winter storm of the season, the evaluation of the local response has begun.

Gonzalez said the county did well in anticipating power outages, staging generators in different parts of the county, including one in a shelter set up in Sanger.

In the next week, Gonzalez said emergency officials will gather together, look back and evaluate the job they did to help residents and motorists during the storm and prepare for future weather events.

“That’s what those meetings are about — what was good, what was bad and how we could do better,” he said.

Gonzalez said he hopes residents will continue to heed warnings that keep them safe.

“It was warning after warning after warning from the National Weather Service and the news outlets that said, ‘Do not go out,’” he said. “I understand people have to go to work. But if you don’t need to get out, don’t get out.”

He said residents who go out into the bad weather should be prepared for long delays and have a 72-hour kit on hand with extra medication, water, food supplies, flashlights and other supplies.

“That’s what we preach,” Gonzalez said.

 

City response

The city of Denton had crews working around the clock starting at 3 p.m. Thursday and finally went back to being on call at 3 p.m. Monday, according to Keith Gabbard, the city’s streets and drainage supervisor.

Denton doesn’t have a snowplow or graders, so if the sand and ice get packed and refreeze, all the city can do is apply more sand.

“We sanded some intersections eight or 10 times,” Gabbard said.

In all, the city used 600 yards of material to try to keep thoroughfares and bridges passable. It takes 8 yards to fill a sanding truck, Gabbard said.

The roads will have to be completely clear and dry before the sweepers will be dispatched to clean up the material, he said.

 

Schools, university reopening

Most schools indicated they would be open today, but some were waiting to make their decisions late Tuesday or early today.

Among the schools that indicated they would be open were Lake Dallas and Argyle school districts and the Winfree Academy Charter Schools and Liberty Christian School in Argyle. Immaculate Conception Catholic School indicated it would open at 10 a.m. today.

Both Denton and Pilot Point schools will be closed today, officials said late Tuesday.

Maintenance and custodial staff reported to work for the Denton school district at 10 a.m. Tuesday to prepare school grounds and clear sidewalks of ice for when students return today, said Sharon Cox, a district spokeswoman.

Transportation staff also surveyed the roads Tuesday in preparation for transporting students today, she said.

“We appreciate all the cooperation from our families and staff of being supportive through this storm,” Cox said. “They have been supportive of our decision to close school and keep our students safe.”

UNT was scheduled to be open again today for a condensed, three-day schedule of final exams that had originally been scheduled over six days.

The campus had been scheduled to open at midday Tuesday but officials decided to cancel those plans when President Lane Rawlins arrived at campus at 8 a.m. and determined it was not safe, said Kelly Reese, a university spokeswoman.

“What had thawed yesterday had turned to sheets of ice,” Reese said. “Safety is always the top priority.”

By Tuesday afternoon, the university had released an updated schedule for final exams, which had been scheduled to start on Saturday.

To view the final exam changes, visit http://registrar.unt.edu/exams/final-exam-schedule.

TWU decided to remain closed today and was determining its final exam schedule.

Staff writers Megan Gray, Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, Bj Lewis and Britney Tabor contributed to this report.


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