Sleet, ice, deep freeze hit large swath of U.S.
RICHMOND, Va. — Rain, snow, sleet and freezing rain began to glaze most of the Mid-Atlantic on Sunday, with officials urging people to stay off the roads, as North Texas and other states shook off the early remnants of the powerful storm.
Virginia, parts of West Virginia and the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area braced for a winter's smorgasbord as utility crews were at the ready. The treacherous conditions were to continue most of Sunday.
“We're actually getting something of everything,” said meteorologist Anita Silverman in the Blacksburg, Va., office of the National Weather Service.
Parts of northwest and southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia were getting snow, while sleet and freezing rain prevailed west and north of Richmond. A handful of cancelations were reported at Richmond International Airport. In Baltimore, officials canceled the mayor's annual Christmas parade because of snowy weather as road conditions deteriorated.
In North Texas, bitter cold settled in Sunday after sleet, snow and ice had pelted the region. About 400 departures from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were canceled Sunday. On Interstate 35 north of Dallas, graders with blades to break up thick ice were brought in. The area was expected to see temperatures slightly above freezing Sunday, with a bit of sunshine, but it will likely still be a couple of days before the ice that has coated the region is gone.
Forecasters said the potent system already blamed for numerous power outages and thousands of weekend flight cancellations elsewhere is expected to move up to the Northeast.
Icy conditions were expected to last through the rest of the weekend from Texas to Ohio to Tennessee. And officials warned that a major ice storm was possible in Virginia's Appalachian region along the busy Interstate 81 corridor.
Snow along I-81 in northwest Virginia was making driving treacherous on Sunday, with at least one vehicle reported plowing through 40-feet of guardrail. State police reported no significant crashes.
Forecasters said motorists traveling I-81 between Roanoke, Va., and Hagerstown, Md., should be on the lookout for any deterioration in conditions.
“We are encouraging people to stay off the roads,” said Tamara Rollison of the Virginia Department of Transportation.
State Emergency Management spokeswoman Laura Southard said the storm had the potential to be a “historic ice event” in Virginia.
“I've worked multiple disasters, but I've never worked an ice storm with a forecast like this,” she said. “It's just really important for everybody to take extra precautions.”
Dominion Virginia Power, the state's largest utility, said the storm could knock down tree limbs and power lines and it had company trucks “stocked and fueled” and crews ready to respond.
Forecasters said the storm caused freezing rain and icy conditions in parts of Tennessee as it surged across that state late Saturday and early Sunday. It also has been blamed for plunging temperatures as a cold front sweeps down from the North on the jet stream.
Bob Nations Jr., director of the emergency operations command center for the Memphis area, said early Sunday that ice coating roads, bridges and overpasses caused several multi-vehicle crashes. He issued a statement urging drivers to use extreme caution, particularly on bridges and overpasses.
Police in Memphis, meanwhile, urged motorists to stay home altogether if they could avoid travel early Sunday, with an increase in traffic crashes already reported. Scattered power outages affected more than 3,000 people, emergency and utility officials said.
“It looks like we're going to be stuck with this for one, two, maybe three days,” said Memphis attorney Sam Chafetz, who tried to get off the roads before the worst of the storm hit. “I'm not afraid of the ice and snow. I'm afraid of the other drivers who don't know how to drive in it.”
In Kentucky, a wintry weather advisory was likely to remain in effect for most of the state until late afternoon. Weather officials predict temperatures will get above freezing around that time. As in other states, officials urged people to stay at home if possible, and for motorists who must go out to use caution.
In Texas earlier, icy and treacherous sections of Interstate 35 north of Dallas were closed for hours at a time after tractor-trailers had trouble climbing hills, wrecks occurred and vehicles stalled, authorities said.
Tina Pacheco, her husband and two friends were traveling through Texas on their way to Mexico when the ice-laden interstate became so treacherous that traffic came to a standstill. They were forced to spend Friday night in their pickup truck, which they kept running for heat.
“We couldn't go anywhere,” she said, adding, “It's a good thing we had gas.”
Ice up to 4 inches thick was reported on one interstate in Texas at the height of the storm there. And about 75,000 customers in the Dallas area went without power for a time Saturday, down from a peak of more than 270,000 earlier. Oklahoma utilities reported more than 7,500 power outages across the state and western Arkansas.
The weather forced the cancellation of countless events, including Sunday's Dallas Marathon, which was expected to draw 25,000 runners, some of whom had trained for months, and the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, expected to include 20,000.
Around 7 inches of snow fell in northeast Arkansas and the Missouri boot heel, according to the National Weather Service in Memphis, and 8 to 9 inches fell in parts of southern Indiana. The storm dumped a foot of snow and more in some areas of Illinois, with police scrambling to respond to dozens of accidents and forced scores of schools to remain closed.
Residents were told to prepare for a few days without power, prompting them to rush to stores to stock up on groceries, buy electricity generators and gas up their cars. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell reminded residents to check on family and friends who are elderly, disabled or live alone.