'Worst ice storm' in years wallops Texas, much of the Midwest

Jason Sickles

DALLAS — Tens of thousands of people remained without power here late Friday after a massive winter storm blanketed North Texas in a thick coat of freezing rain and sleet.

Police pleaded with motorists to stay off frozen freeways. Ice on power lines forced public transportation officials to suspend the region’s light rail service.

Dallas’ woes are part of a severe cold snap stretching more than a 1,000 miles from the southern Plains to New England.

“This will be the worst ice storm for the United States since January 2009 and will affect many of the same areas as that storm,” said Jesse Ferrell, weather expert and storm chaser for AccuWeather.com.

The National Weather Service issued ice and winter storm advisories for more than a dozen states. Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee — where thousands are also without power — have already declared states of emergency. Treacherous driving conditions were blamed for several deaths across the country, according to The Associated Press.

Government forecasters warned of possible prolonged power outages in some areas from Central Texas to the Lower Ohio Valley.

While the precipitation had moved out of North Texas by Friday afternoon, the weather service painted a frigid picture as the storm rumbles east:

As the upper-level forcing associated with the arctic front pushes eastward this evening and tomorrow, the threat of wintry precipitation will shift eastward from the Mid-south into the Appalachians, northern Mid-Atlantic and southern New England as the night progresses. Additional ice accumulations of less than a quarter of an inch are expected from extreme northern Mississippi northeastward to southern New England through early Saturday. Behind the band of freezing rain, snow is expected to accumulate 1 to 5 inches from across the central Appalachians through central New England through tonight.

Jeff Masters, a meteorologist at Weather Underground, wrote that the arctic air “will bring temperatures 10 to 40 degrees below average to more than 80 percent of the contiguous U.S. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.”

[Related: From frozen Vegas to the frigid Midwest, residents commiserate]

The winter weather crippled airports as well. Thousands of flights were canceled across the country. American Airlines, headquartered in Dallas-Fort Worth, called off nearly 1,000 flights.

In North Texas where temperatures are not expected to get above freezing until possibly Sunday afternoon, the storm dumped 1 to 3 inches of sleet late Thursday and early Friday. Freezing rain snapped tree branches and crusted power lines in ice.

Customers and power companies were using social media to report and respond to outages.

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In Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, reserve power line crews were being called in from other states to try and restore heat to homes.

In Richardson, north of Dallas, Amanda Fancher said she was roused out of bed at 4 a.m. Friday when a 35-year-old hackberry tree came crashing down in her front yard. The impact set off the alarm on a car parked nearby.

“It was a really big tree,” Fancher told Yahoo News. “It's crazy that it didn't land on anything. The whole tree is covered in ice.”

The hardest-hit areas could see more of the same by Saturday when a second storm system, which is already bringing snow to parts of California, Oregon and Nevada, pushes east across the Plains and into the Midwest.

The frigid forecast was unwelcome news to some 25,000 runners who had planned to participate in Sunday's Dallas Marathon. Race officials called off the event early Friday afternoon.

“We regret that the race will not go on as planned, but are confident this decision is in the best interest of our runners, volunteers, spectators and the general public,” the organizers wrote on their website.