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Cold grips North Texas: Much of state suffers in freezing weather

Profile image for Loyd Brumfield,  The Dallas Morning News
Loyd Brumfield, The Dallas Morning News

Temperatures plunged into the low teens in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Wednesday morning as North Texas suffered its coldest blast since 2011.

Some areas in North Texas were even colder as Denton Enterprise Airport recorded a low of 4 degrees.

The roads, however, were safe, and drivers were commuting under normal conditions. The rest of the state hasn't been as fortunate.

Near Houston, an 82-year-old woman with dementia likely died from exposure after walking away from her home, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. Officials said deputies found her body in some nearby woods Wednesday after her family reported her missing.

Authorities say she "succumbed to the cold."

Houston officials say a man was found dead on Tuesday, also apparently of exposure. That man appeared to be homeless and was found behind a trash bin.

Also in Houston, dozens of 18-wheelers and other vehicles were stranded for hours overnight and into Wednesday morning along U.S. Highway 59, as icy conditions made travel a disaster in many parts of Texas.

Hundreds of accidents were reported in the Houston area, and many roads were closed as the city was seized in ice.

"We're driving with our lights on the freeway trying to slow people down and they are passing us," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told Houston's KPRC-TV. "If you see a police car going 35 miles an hour with its lights on, you're required, A, not pass it; and B, have some common sense."

Several truckers took to the roads early in hopes of escaping traffic only to cause more than a mile-long stoppage along U.S. 59.

One rig driver from South Texas said he saw at least 10 accidents along a 30-mile stretch, KTRK-TV reported.

Some drivers slept in their cars during the overnight stretch, KHOU-TV reported.

In Austin, one man was killed and another critically injured when a truck they were in plunged 30 to 40 feet off an icy bridge on the south side of the city, KEYE-TV reported.

Though much of North Texas escaped harsh conditions, more than 500 Wise County residents were without power after a line near U.S. Highway 380 fell to the ground, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reported.

Frigid temperatures also sent the demand for electricity soaring to a new record high for the winter Wednesday morning.

Between 7 and 8 a.m., peak demand reached a record of approximately 65,731 megawatts, significantly higher than the previous record of approximately 62,855 megawatts set during a similar cold spell last week, according to ERCOT.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, oversees the electric grid for most of the state. ERCOT officials monitor demand and coordinate with electricity providers to meet that demand.

A warming trend will continue through the weekend as temperatures in North Texas are expected to reach the mid-40s Thursday and the mid-60s on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

Denton Record-Chronicle staff writer Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe contributed to this report.