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Full thaw could take its time

Profile image for By Megan Gray
By Megan Gray

Hazardous roads play role in driver’s death; some melting should occur today

The Denton area shouldered the brunt of Saturday’s fallout from the icy winter blast that struck North Texas, with hundreds of truckers stranded on an impassable Interstate 35 and dozens of other vehicles scattered across ditches and roadways as residents struggled with hard sheets of ice covering the area.

The body of a woman was pulled from the icy waters in Lewisville Lake after her pickup spun out of control and went off the Interstate 35E bridge just before 4 a.m. Saturday.

About 60 boats were damaged when the roof collapsed at a row of boat slips at a Lewisville Lake marina. One man had to be pulled from the debris.

The Sanger, Aubrey and Pilot Point areas were among the hardest hit in the region, getting at least 4 inches of sleet and ice during the storm that started Thursday and lasted into Friday. Shelters were opened in the Sanger area for stranded motorists as well as residents lacking electricity, and crews walked and drove along I-35 and the service roads to take stranded motorists to the shelters.

“We had an estimated 220 in three shelters overnight,” said Jody Gonzalez, Denton County’s emergency management coordinator. “The Sanger community has been wonderful, opening their doors to help.”

The Texas National Guard was sent in from Wichita Falls to Denton County near Sanger to help with stranded truckers and motorists, many of whom apparently gave up trying to move and eventually just parked along the roadway. Stranded truckers also blocked U.S. Highway 77 at I-35 on Saturday afternoon.

Across the county, however, most residents kept their electrical power or had their power restored after brief outages.

And a thaw — albeit a brief one — is apparently on the way. Temperatures are expected to climb above freezing today to as high as 40 degrees in some areas, allowing some of the accumulated ice to melt along many of the roadways.

But cold temperatures tonight could refreeze the roadways, and some patches of ice could remain until Tuesday or Wednesday, according to Jesse Moore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth.

“Expect to have ice on the roads Monday,” Moore said. “With it staying cloudy Monday, we should still have ice around Tuesday.”

Some light snow and more sleet was forecast across the Dallas-Fort Worth area late Saturday, though no additional accumulations were expected.

Dangerous roadways

Sheets of ice remained across most of the county Saturday, making driving difficult even for four-wheel-drive and off-road vehicles.

An estimated 300 vehicles spent Friday night parked along I-35, and at one point Saturday, the interstate was backed up from Oklahoma to the Denton County line, according to Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Lonny Haschel.

Traffic was finally moving along I-35 by Saturday afternoon, but continued to stop and start as vehicles stalled or became stranded on the ice. The roads were expected to freeze again as temperatures plummeted again overnight into today.

The icy roads are believed to have been a factor in the wreck that sent a woman plunging into Lewisville Lake. The northbound lanes of I-35E were closed for hours early Saturday morning while the Lewisville Fire Department worked to pull the pickup from the lake.

The woman, believed to be about 40 years of age, was still in the driver’s seat of her 2007 gray Nissan Frontier pickup when the truck was pulled from the water. Divers from the fire department went into the frigid waters to try to rescue the driver. Her identity was being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

A spokesman for the Texas Highway Patrol said the pickup spun out of control while traveling north on I-35E at 3:50 a.m. Saturday. Witnesses said the pickup lost control on the bridge and went over the east guardrail and into the water.

Several areas on the bridge had more than 2 inches of ice, making for treacherous travel conditions, officials said.

Officials continued to plead with residents to stay put until the roadways thaw.

“It’s a domino effect,” Haschel said. “Bridges and overpasses are especially dangerous, and we are still asking everyone to stay off [the roads] until the weather clears.”

The Denton Fire Department sent additional crews to assist with welfare checks on stranded motorists on the interstates, said Kenneth Hedges, fire department spokesman. The crews handed out blankets and water to travelers staying in their automobiles along the freeway.

“Our concern is mainly the motorists inside the passenger vehicles, since truckers can always get in the back of their cabs, but we are still concerned for them too,” Gonzalez said.

From noon Thursday through early Saturday, Denton police assisted 359 stranded motorists, and responded to at least 43 minor accidents and two major accidents. Police also responded to 54 traffic hazard calls.

Property damage

An estimated 60 boats were reported damaged after heavy ice caused a roof to collapse at the Pier 121 Marina Friday afternoon at Lewisville Lake, Assistant Lewisville Fire Chief Terry McGrath said.

Some of the boats in the slips were houseboats, and one man had to be pulled from the wreckage, he said.

“A man was living inside his boat at the slip during the time of collapse, so crews helped him out,” McGrath said.

No injuries were reported, and management for the marina was assessing the damages.

Metal roofs and awnings also began to collapse under the weight of the ice and sleet that accumulated Thursday and Friday. Collapsed roofs and awnings were reported in Denton and Pilot Point.

Damage from falling trees was less severe than expected because the freezing rain that was predicted turned quickly to sleet, which does not build up on trees and power lines.

Officials will be assessing the damages more fully today as roadways become passable.

Looking ahead

Icy roadways aren’t expected to clear up anytime soon, although careful motorists could get a break in some areas today as temperatures rise.

Moore, the meteorologist, said residents are facing the coldest temperatures they’ve seen since February 2011, when the Super Bowl was in North Texas.

Temperatures were expected to dip back into the teens overnight tonight and into Monday morning.

Temperatures have hovered in the low- to mid-20s since at least Friday, keeping the roadways iced over. Not until midweek should the ice finally come to an end.

“Wednesday will get to the mid-40s and the sun will be out, melting away anything that might still be lingering,” Moore said.

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.